The Royals wrap up a road trip through the AL West with a stop in Houston, and are underdogs on the MLB odds in Monday's series opener against the Astros.
Monday's Series Opener
By: Willie Bee
As strange as it may sound, is this week's matchup in Houston between the Astros and Kansas City Royals an American League playoff preview? What might have been seen as an impossible scenario just three short months ago certainly has to be given a thought right now with the two teams owning the best records in the AL.
The clash of division leaders begins with an 8:10 PM (ET) contest in Houston where a couple of pitchers who weren't even on their respective big league rosters on Opening Day will square off. Joe Blanton is slated for Kansas City against Astros rookie Lance McCullers, and Houston is on the MLB odds board as -135 chalk at The Greek. The 'over' is beginning to be favored on a 7½ run total.
Houston owns a winning record against just three AL teams, and the Royals are one of them. The first meeting between the two in 2015 -- the Astros visit Kansas City on the final weekend of July -- finds the AL West leaders with a 22-20 advantage over the AL Central leaders, though it has been a series that has often favored the visitors.
That was certainly the case a year ago when the clubs exchanged road sweeps, leaving the Royals 12-9 all-time in the Bayou City. Two of the three in Houston fell short of the baseball betting totals.
Matchup Pits AL's Best 2 Bullpens
Kansas City (44-28, +15.2 units) is starting to stretch things out in the AL Central thanks to the current 4-game win streak and 10-3 run the past couple of weeks. Solid pitching has been part of the team's MO the entire season, especially out in the bullpen where the Royals own a 2.07 ERA to lead the AL, Houston a distant second in that column (2.07). But the offense has been coming on to close June, KC's lineup averaging 13 RPG during the 10-3 stretch.
A veteran of 11 well-traveled seasons, Blanton caught on with the Angels this past winter after not seeing any major league action in 2014. He joined the KC roster in mid-May, and has been filling a slot in the rotation while Yordano Ventura and Jason Vargas mend on the disabled list...and doing so with excellent results. Blanton has dubyas in both assignments vs. the Brewers and at the Mariners, a combined 11 innings with only two runs allowed while striking out 11 and walking none.
While with the Angels in 2013, Blanton faced the Astros four times, three of them quality starts and the other a disastrous relief outing late in the season. The former UK star split his two starts at Houston that season (13.2 IP, 5 ER).
McCullers Facing Royals For 1st Time
Houston (44-34, +7.2 units) is wrapping up a homestand with this series before hitting the road for a 10-game trip through Boston, Cleveland and Tampa Bay. The Astros just split a long set against the Yankees, getting continued solid pitching in three of the four contests to begin the 13th week of the MLB betting campaign with a 4-game lead over the Angels.
Called up in mid-May after blistering batters in Double-A, McCullers has been sticking around in the Houston pitching order due to the knee injury Scorr Feldman suffered. A late 1st-round pick by the Astros in 2012, the 21-year-old righty has had some shining moments so far as a 2.33 ERA in his initial eight starts validates, but also suffered through some inconsistency. Pitching deep into counts has limited him to only going 6+ in half of his assignments, but he has been especially good at home where McCullers owns a 1.17 ERA in four tries and is holding batters to a .148 average.
There's supposed to be pretty typical weather for this time of year in the Houston area the next few days, the forecast calling for 40%-60% shots of afternoon rain each day before the likelihood lessens in the evening. It could be a game-time decision of sorts whether the roof is open or shut at Arthur Andersen Memorial Stadium, the best bet for Monday being the lid is closed.
My best bet and free MLB pick for the series opener is the visiting squad.
MLB Pick: Royals +125 @ The Greek
Willie Bee's MLB Handicapping Record This Season: 58-49-2 (+10.40)