It's finally here, baseball that counts to bet on. The 2013 MLB campaign gets underway Sunday night in Houston where the Astros host the Texas Rangers, a historic contest that finds the hosts beginning their first season in the American League following 51 years in the National League.
Yes, it's a historic new era for Major League Baseball after realignment leveled the two leagues with 15 teams each. Too bad the Astros embark on the journey with something less than a Major League caliber roster. In many ways, it's as though the franchise has come full-circle from the first time I saw them play in that inaugural 1962 season.
The funny part is I was upset that the then, Colt .45s were in the NL since I wanted to see players like Mantle, Berra, Killebrew, Kaline, Aparicio and Yastrzemski play in Houston. It would be the 1968 All-Star Game before my man Yaz played his first and only game in the Astrodome.
Enough nostalgia and on with the business at hand. American League stars will be coming to Bayou City this year, and they are expected to treat the Astros like a, well, come up with your own metaphor to mean regularly beat the crap outa' Houston.
The opening MLB odds for Sunday's contest should be repeated often the next six months. Texas went off as -155 to -160 chalk, Houston backers getting +140 to +145 at the time. The moneyline settled at Texas -155 by Sunday morning, and the 8.5 run total was shading the UNDER in some shops.
Astros, Rangers Muddle Through Middling Springs
Funny how similar spring records can lead to two different spins for each team. Texas is a solid playoff contender in the AL, and the Rangers' official 17-17 record stands for, "Wins don't count, we got our work in and we're ready to kick some more butt." Houston went 15-16 this spring, and it gets sold as, "These kids proved they won't back down, and this franchise is headed in the right direction."
If the Astros don't lose 100+ games this year, it will be a huge success for a team that is carrying a 59 win total and the longest of long shots to win the World Series (350/1). Texas, meanwhile, is the fifth choice in the AL (15/2) to win its third pennant in four years, and carrying an 86.5 win total on the latest MLB futures odds.
Both Bullpens Have Questions to Open Season
Matt Harrison will start things off for the Rangers against Bud Norris of the Astros. Harrison would seem an unlikely No. 1 for a team with World Series aspirations, but the southpaw has been very consistent the last two years (Texas 40-22 in his starts). Norris is known as the Cardinal Killer, the Astros going 10-5 in his 15 career starts vs. St. Louis with a 2.83 ERA, and 34-48 in his other assignments while posting a 4.74 ERA.
What bugs me more than any other matter going into this one are the two bullpens. Texas has a proven closer in Joe Nathan who didn't have a bang-up spring, and Houston has...Jose Veras? That is a clear advantage on paper for Texas, but the Rangers still have a lot of no-names in their 'pen that are inexperienced and raw. Joseph Ortiz, Michael Kirkman and Tanner Scheppers all had great springs to win relief jobs, but they'll have to prove themselves.
Houston's overall pitching will eventually prove to be the difference-maker for this team, speaking from the angle of will the Astros reach 100 losses for a third straight season. I don't feel it will be good enough to avoid the century mark in the L column again.
Norris is making his first Opening Day start and coming off an outstanding 2012 pitching at home. Texas has dominated this series the last four years (19-5, 10-2 in Houston) and has Harrison on the mound who has produced 20 wins each of the past two years. You either play Houston for the outright upset or Texas on the run line for your MLB picks here.
My pick: Rangers -1.5 (+110) at 5Dimes
Season: 0-0 ($0.00)