8:05 PM EST, FS Southwest – Money Line: Astros -131, Run Line: 8o15
It’s a Texas Two-Step, as the Major League-leading Houston Astros travel north to face their instate rivals, the Texas Rangers, in the first of a three-game set from Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. After years of building (and sometimes rebuilding), the Astros (38-16, 1st in AL West) look to finally be making good on their immense potential, pacing not just the American League, but the Majors with thirty-eight victories, including nine out of their last ten outings. The last time we saw AJ Hinch’s troops, they absolutely pasted the Minnesota Twins, scoring a whopping seventeen runs on nineteen hits in the 17-6 blowout. The visitors pelted six home runs, including the ninth of the campaign for Star Shortstop Carlos Correa (.316 BA, 12 2B, 9 HR, 34, RBI), but when it was all said and done, the day clearly belonged to one George Springer (.265 BA, 7 2B, 13 HR, 31 RBI); the Centerfielder was used as a Designated Hitter by Hinch, which clearly didn’t bother the 27-year old, who promptly went 4-of-4 with a pair of solo homers and RBIs. Houston didn’t need a dominant performance from the Pitching Staff, as David Paulino (0-0, 4.50 ERA) in his first start, tossed a solid four innings, yielding two runs, while striking out eight batters and waling just one, before the Bullpen arrived to take care of the rest. The 23-year old Righthander looked damn near beastly at times, fanning the side in the second frame, but also exhibited quite a bit of wildness with three Wild Pitches. If the youngster can iron out some of those wrinkles, it appears that the Astros will have yet another powerful arm in their Rotation. Speaking of powerful arms, taking the mound for Hinch and Co. tonight is Dallas Keuchel (8-0, 1.81 ERA), who looks to continue to his torrid start to the campaign, taking his unbeaten streak to ten consecutive starts. Houston has been nearly perfect when the Lefthander has been in action, tasting defeat just once his aforementioned ten starts, including eight straight victories. Last seen in Saturday’s 5-2 triumph over the Baltimore Orioles, Keuchel was masterful against the O’s powerful lineup, yielding just one run on four hits through six innings, while striking out eight batters and walking a pair. The most impressive aspect of that performance was the fact that he only needed eighty-six pitches to do it, and though he probably could have gone a bit longer into the contest, Hinch and his Staff ultimately stayed true to their word and pulled the 29-year old in order to remain in line with his imposed Pitching Limit, given his recent stay on the Disabled List. With that said, after having eleven days off he hasn’t shown any signs of rust, as he dominated the lower strike zone throughout the affair, lowering his ERA to a miniscule 1.81 (2nd in American League), well below the figure he settled at back in 2015 (2.48), in which he earned the league’s Cy Young Award. Tonight’s trip North should represent a solid challenge, for Keuchel has not been at his best when he’s met the Rangers; from 2014 to 2016, he has faced Texas thirteen times, with five wins and five losses, sporting a 4.07 ERA while yielding an opposing Batting Average of .256. Furthermore, he’s been tagged for seven home runs, the most served up to any opponent during that span.
Meanwhile, meandering two games under .500 are the Rangers (26-28, 3rd in AL West), who with nearly half of the season in the books, have suddenly found themselves twelve full games behind their southern neighbors in the division. After a stretch in which they won ten consecutive games, Jeff Banister’s charges have picked a terrible time to enter a slump, losing eight out of their last eleven contests. Wednesday’s 7-5 loss at home to the last-place Tampa Bay rays pretty much encapsulated their misfortunes over the past week and some change; leading 4-3 heading into the Eighth Inning, the host’s Bullpen completely fell apart, serving up the tying solo home run in the Ninth, forcing the affair into Extras where the visiting side promptly pelted two more homers in the Tenth Inning, to stretch the lead to three. In the bottom of the stanza, Adrian Beltre (.333 BA, 2 RBI) got a run back with an RBI Single to Left Center in just his second game back from the Disabled List, but it was ultimately a case of too little, too late. The relief trio of Alex Claudio (1-0, 2.92 ERA), Matt Bush (2-0, 1.37 ERA), and Sam Dyson (1-6, 10.80 ERA) have to take the blame for this one, allowing four runs on as many hits, a pair of walks and f course, the aforementioned three dingers. Given that they’re facing a team that just posted seventeen runs in their last outing, pitching must be on the mind of Banister and his Staff heading into this one, folks. And it’s with that sad that the Rangers’ answer to stopping the bleeding is Yu Darvish (5-3, 2.97 ERA), the flame-throwing Japanese International, who up until recently had been in the midst of his own stellar run, stringing together an unbeaten run of six consecutive outings. The Rangers had proven victorious in seven of the Righthander’s first nine starts this season, before falling on the wrong side of a 3-1 loss at the Toronto Blue Jays last Saturday. For his troubles, Darvish was almost spectacular, allowing five hits while striking out four and walking three, but made one crucial mistake that ended up tilting the outcome in favor of the hosts. With two runners on, he was tagged for a costly three-run homer courtesy of Jose Bautista, which would be all the Jays needed to get the win. Though his ERA has been the lowest it’s been since 2013 (2.83), Darvish has at times exhibited trouble with his control, allowing nine home runs in eleven games, while issuing thirty walks, which is one less than he posted in seventeen starts in 2016. Furthermore, his 3.9 Walks/Nine Innings is the highest since is Rookie Campaign in 2012, while his Strikeout/Walk Ratio (2.40) is the lowest such mark of his career. And then there is the matter that Houston has been far from kind to 30-year old; from 2014 to 2016 Darvish is winless in six starts against the Astros, with a 4.50 ERA and an Opponent’s Batting Average of .261.