7:10 PM EST – Line: Astros -125, Over/Under: 8.5
Two of the hottest teams in the Majors meet in a potential Playoff Preview tonight in Cleveland, as the surging Indians play host to the AL-leading Houston Astros in the first entry of a Three-Game Series from Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. After spending the majority of the first half of the season dealing with what seemed like a never-ending rash of injuries, the Astros (68-39, 1st in AL West) are finally returning to full strength, and as a result have vaulted up the Standings in the American League, winning Eleven of Seventeen since the All-Star Break, and going 20-9 since June 23rd. With the return of a healthy Carlos Correa (.286 BA, 53 G, 58 H, 27 R, 13 2B, 12 HR, 40 RBI, 20 BB, 55 K) and George Springer (.296 BA, 74 G, 87 H, 62 R, 14 2B, 24 HR, 61 RBI, 39 BB, 70 K) to the Lineup, Houston’s thunderous Batting Order now finds itself intact for yet another deep run into the Postseason. In a virtual tie with the New York Yankees for First Place in the American League, and holding a comfortable Eight-Game Lead over the Oakland Athletics, A.J. Hinch’s charges can afford to take a chance at the Trade Deadline to further stabilize a Starting Rotation that has been very top-heavy in 2019, without much depth to rely upon. Granted, Gerrit Cole (12-5, 2.94 ERA, 23 GS, 143.2 IP, 107 H, 47 ER, 22 HR, 37 BB, 212 K, 1.002 WHIP) has been excellent, while Wade Miley (9-4, 3.06 ERA, 22 GS, 126.2 IP, 102 H, 43 ER, 17 HR, 40 BB, 106 K, 1,121 WHIP) has been a pleasant surprise, but given Brad Peacock’s injury woes (Sore Right Shoulder), and the season-long absence of Lance McCullers (Tommy John Surgery), this is a group that could certainly stand to be bolstered heading down the stretch. Taking the mound tonight for the Astros will be none other than Justin Verlander (13.4, 2.86 ERA, 22 GS, 144.2 IP, 90 H, 46 ER, 28 HR, 31 BB, 183 K, 0.836 WHIP), who appears to be aging like a fine wine as he transitions to the latter stages of his stellar career. At the age of Thirty-Six, Verlander has proven that he can still dominate every bit as much as he did in his younger days, with the 2011 CY Young and MVP leading the American League in both Wins (13) and WHIP (0.836), despite also serving up a league-worst Twenty-Eight Home Runs. That last bit there is a bit puzzling given how good he’s bee in other areas; the Righthander has relinquished the lowest average of Hits per Nine Innings in the American League (5.6), but when opposing batters have managed to make contact, they’ve gotten their money’s worth. In a season in which Homers are being launched at a historic rate, Verlander is on pace to shatter his personal worst of Thirty set back in 2016, despite also currently logging his best season-long WHIP in fifteen years in the Majors. A winner of three consecutive Starts, we last saw him putting together a masterful display in a 4-2 victory over the Athletics, with the veteran ace yielding just One Run (Zero Earned) on a pair of Hits over the course of 6.0 Innings, racking up Eleven Strikeouts in comparison to Two Walks. In fact, over those last three wins he’s been nothing short of dominant, fielding an ERA of 2.00, with Thirty Strikeouts, Four Walks, and Two Home Runs. As a former Detroit Tiger, you can imagine that’s seen the Indians plenty of times throughout his career, making Fifty-Two Starts to be exact, posting a 20-24 Record with a 4.71 ERA and 1.318 WHIP. Since joining the Astros midway through the 2017 campaign, he hasn’t enjoyed much success against them, going 1-3 with a bloated 8.14 ERA in Four Starts.
Meanwhile, after a slow start to the season, the Indians (62-43, 2nd in AL Central) have once again rounded into form, putting forth an all-out assault on the once thought to be wrapped up AL Central. Indeed, Terry Francona’s teams are generally second-half dynamos, and this group appears to be no different, though diving deeper into their campaign will reveal that they began their march much earlier than after the All-Star Break. Cleveland ended the month of May a mediocre 28-29, which coupled with the torrid pace of the Minnesota Twins caused many to believe that they would eventually succumb to selling at the Trade Deadline. However, since June began, the Tribe have gone 34-14, winners of Twelve of Seventeen since returning from the Midsummer Classic, which coincidentally has change their outlook on things considerably; coming into this Series with the Astros, they are in firm control of the first Wild Card in the American League, owning a Three-Game Lead over the Athletics, while also trailing the Twins by a mere two games within the Division. Hell, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that if they remain on this trajectory that they could even challenge for the No. One Seed in the Playoffs. It’s with this upward turn that the Indians may now look to become buyers at the Deadline after weeks of speculation that they had been in talks to offload their ace, Trevor Bauer (9-8, 3.79 ERA, 24 GS, 156.2 IP, 127 H, 66 ER, 22 HR, 63 BB, 185 K, 1.213 WHIP), who is in the final year of his contract. Granted, Management would no doubt love to exchange him for assets rather than simply let him walk in Free Agency, but with former Cy Young, Corey Kluber (2-3, 5.80 ERA, 7 GS, 35.2 IP, 44 H, 23 ER, 4 HR, 15 BB, 38 K, 1.654 WHIP), continuing to rehab from a fracture in his Right Forearm, they may need keep him if they feel they have a real chance at reaching the World Series. Of course, making a potential deal palatable is the fact that this is a club with a wealth of strong arms, particularly in the Rotation, which only figures to grow deeper once Kluber returns in mid-to-late August; Cleveland ranks Second in the American League in Team ERA (3.75), Hits (829), and Earned Runs Allowed (389), while yielding the fewest Walks (291). Taking the mound tonight for the Indians will be Shane Bieber (10-3, 3.44 ERA, 21 GS, 2 CG, 2 SHO, 133.1 IP, 103 H, 51 ER, 17 HR, 29 BB, 166 K, 0.990 WHIP), who in just his second season as a Starter has been a major reason as to why Bauer is considered expendable in the first place. Ranking second behind Verlander in the American League in WHIP (0.990) and Win Percentage (.769), the 24-Year Old has been nothing short of excellent in 2019, going 8-1 over his last Thirteen Starts, with the club winning ten of those outings. Over that period, he’s recorded a 3.23 ERA, while racking up 112 Strikeouts opposed to issuing just Sixteen Walks over 83.2 Innings of labor, with opposing Batter hitting a scat .203 against him. When we last him, Bieber was masterful in a 4-0 shutout of the Toronto Blue Jays with the Righthander going the distance, permitting One Run and fanning Ten Batters.