8:00 PM EST, ESPN – Money Line: Cubs -111, Run Line: 9o20
Division leaders clash in Southern Texas, as the Houston Astros play host to the Chicago Cubs in the final chapter of their Three-Game Series from Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. After an absolutely brutal start to the season, which saw them lose eight of their first eleven games, the Cubs (30-22, 1st in NL Central), quickly rounded into shape, going on a stellar 19-5 run to vault themselves back into the top spot in the National League Central. With that said, Joe Maddon’s charges have hit a bit of a rough patch lately, dropping eight of their past thirteen contests, including four out of their last five. The Offense certainly hasn’t been at fault during this stretch, with Chicago averaging 5.5 Runs per Game on 9.2 Hits, including 2.1 Home Runs, all the while batting a solid .266. On the season, this Lineup has been among the most potent in the National League, ranking Third in Runs Scored (280) and Batting Average (.258), and Second in Home Runs (85), Walks (223), On-Base Percentage (.347) and Slugging Percentage (.458). Four different players have launched at least Ten Homers, led by All-Star First Baseman, Anthony Rizzo (.291 BA, 36 R, 53 H, 10 2B, 15 HR, 25 BB, 29 K), who has been red-hot of late, batting .447, with Seventeen Hits, Three Doubles, and Five Home Runs over the past ten outings. Heading to the mound tonight is Kyle Hendricks (4-4, 3.34 ERA, 62.0 IP, 61 H, 23 ER, 6 HR, 12 BB, 54 K, 1.177 WHIP), who has certainly appeared to have settled into a groove after a disastrous start to the campaign. The Righthander struggled mightily throughout the month of April, taking the Loss in Four out of his first Five Starts of the season, logging an poor ERA of 5.33, and lasting past just 5.0 Innings on one occasion. However, he’s managed to turn things around, having gone 3-0 in Five starts in the month of May, registering a much-improved ERA of 1.96, with Thirty Strikeouts in comparison to a scant Four Walks. Though he didn’t factor into the decision of his latest outing, a 5-6 defeat at home to the Cincinnati Reds, Hendricks was nonetheless fantastic, permitting Three Earned Runs over the course of Six Innings, racking up Nine Strikeouts opposed to issuing one, lone Walk.
Meanwhile, the Astros (36-19, 1st in AL West) have followed a similar trek to their opponent tonight, overcoming a slow start to the campaign by finding a comfortable groove. A.J. Hinch’s troops have put together a pair of ten-game winning streaks this season, including a thirteen-game stretch in which they are currently neck-and-neck with the Minnesota Twins and the new York Yankees for the best record in the Majors. However, Houston has sustained a slew of injuries that threaten to slow their march towards to a third consecutive American League West Title, particularly when you account for the recent surge from the Oakland Athletics. 3-3 over their past six outings, the Astros have seen many of their number succumb to injury of late, with All-Star Second Baseman, Jose Altuve (.243 BA, 21 H, 35 R, 6 2B, 9 HR, 21 RBI, 18 BB, 25 K) being joined on the Injury List by fellow All-Star, George Springer (.308 BA, 41 R, 57 H, 2 2B, 17 HR, 43 RBI, 25 BB, 45 K), with both players suffering from strained Hamstrings. While that certainly sounds like their missing a sizable deal of star power in their Lineup, particularly in the case of Springer, who leads the club in both Home Runs and RBIs, Houston is far from toothless at the plate, with the likes of Alex Bregman (.266 BA, 33 R, 50 H, 7 2B, 15 HR, 35 RBI, 38 BB, 34 K), Carlos Correa (.295 BA, 26 R, 56 H, 13 2B, 11 HR, 35 RBI, 0 BB, 51 K), and Michael Brantley (.320 BA, 30 R, 66 H, 14 2B, 10 HR, 34 RBI, 16 BB, 21 K) continuing to threaten opposing pitching. Fresh off of his first All-Star appearance (in which he also earned MVP honors), Bregman appears to be improving his power greatly, evolving from last season in which he led the Majors with Fifty-One Doubles, to being on pace to shatter his career-high of Thirty-One Home Runs, employing an improved Slugging Percentage of .543. Heading to the mound tonight for this Series Finale is Wade Miley (5-2, 3.32 ERA, 62.1 IP, 57 H, 23 ER, 9 HR, 15 BB, 45 K, 1.155 WHIP), who has been on fire of late, earning the Win in four of his last five Starts. Very much a journeyman throughout is career, the veteran Lefthander has pitched for six different teams over the past five years, though as a venerable Lefty, he brings some sorely-needed balance to Houston’s Rotation. When we last saw Miley, he was in the midst of authoring arguably his most impressive performance during his young tenure as an Astro, tossing Six quality Innings in which he yielded a single Earned Run on Four Hits, with Eight Strikeouts in comparison to Two Walks. Granted, his Pitch Count once again became a bit of an issue (102), but he’s nonetheless found his comfort zone with a team that really needed some depth behind the likes of Justin Verlander (8-2, 2.38 ERA, 79.1 IP, 42 H, 21 ER, 13 HR, 17 BB, 95 K, 0.744 WHIP) and Gerrit Cole (5-5, 4.02 ERA, 71.2 IP, 57 H, 32 ER, 12 HR, 18 BB, 112 K, 1.047 WHIP).