One team was just swept at home to fall out of the lead in the division. The other narrowly missed a sweep on the road after being broomed to begin the 6-game trip. So, which one is in the better mindset when they open a 4-game series tonight?
Welcome to Psychology 101, also known as Game 1 of a long set in Houston between the Astros and Oakland Athletics. It all gets underway at Minute Maid Park with an 8:10 PM (ET) start on Thursday, and features an all-southpaw mound duel as Scott Kazmir toils for the A's against Houston's Brett Oberholtzer.
Oakland is carrying chalk in the low-to-mid 160s for the matchup; a 7.5 run total that heavily favors the 'over' is listed on SBR's live MLB odds.
It's the second meeting between the clubs this season, the first coming last weekend when the Athletics swept the Astros in Oakland, outscoring Houston 19-7 in the process. The A's have now won 18 of the 22 clashes -- including the last six -- since the Astros joined the American League last season.
A's Begin Road Trip
After Being Swept At Home
Oakland (13-8, +3.1 units) is beginning a 10-game road trip that includes stops in Arlington early next week followed by a series in Boston. The Athletics would love to build some momentum against the Astros heading into the series at Texas after the Rangers just finished off a sweep in Oakland on Wednesday.
Oakland is a perfect 4-0 when Kazmir takes the hill, the two most recent wins coming against AL West foes and the lefty pitching to a nice 1.65 ERA overall, along with an even more impressive 0.77 WHIP. The Houston native has served up just one long ball while compiling an excellent 24:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
That homer came in his outing last Saturday against these Astros, Jonathan Villar taking Kazmir deep to help Houston build a 3-1 lead before a 9th-inning rally took him off the hook for a 4-3 Oakland triumph. He faced the Astros twice last season while employed by Cleveland, and the Tribe got the win both times, though Kazmir struggled in his outing at Houston (3.1 IP, 6 ER) when the Indians gifted him with a 14-0 lead and he couldn't hang around long enough for the easy dubya.
'Stros Coming Off
Demoralizing Loss In Seattle
Houston (7-15, -3.7 units) is returning home after a swing through Oakland and Seattle, and the Astros have to feel dejected following Wednesday's setback to the Mariners. They were close to their first series sweep since last September (also at Seattle), but the bullpen couldn't hold the lead, and that has been a common occurrence for this team.
While the A's are unbeaten when Kazmir pitches, the Astros are winless in Oberholtzer's four assignments. That is despite the young southpaw owning a 3.04 ERA and respectable 1.14 WHIP, and three of the assignments came on the road.
Oberholtzer appeared to be on the verge of breaking his 8-start winless streak, which dates back to his last four appearances of 2013, last Saturday in Oakland where he matched up with Kazmir. But as mentioned, Houston's bullpen coughed up a 3-1 advantage in the ninth for what was the club's sixth setback during a 7-game skid. Oberholtzer has faced the Athletics twice in his brief career, both Astros losses despite his 11.2 combined innings with only two runs allowed.
The roof at Minute Maid Park hasn't been open too often the past few years, and with temps in the mid-to-upper 80s forecast for the next few days, my guess is the games at least begin with the lid closed. If the Astros do decide to open it, the East-Southeast winds that are also in the forecast could be a boon for hitters.
I made some good coin fading Houston 159 of the 162 games in 2013, and I certainly don't see any reason to start backing the Astros now. Even though Oakland was blanked on Wednesday, let's knock some of the juice off today's moneyline with a run-line play on the visitors for my free MLB pick.
My pick: Athletics -1.5 (+100)
Season: 20-23 (-4.25)