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MLB Pick: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays

by | Jun 28, 2018 | mlb

Two teams playing some good ball as of late hook up as the Astros and Rays open a four-game weekend series at the Trop in Tampa Thursday night (7:10 ET). How are we playing this one with our daily free MLB picks?

The MLB Betting Line

Most of Thursday’s MLB betting odds opened Houston and Lance McCullers at around -170 over Tampa and Ryne Stanek, with an over/under of 7.5 runs. Early betting action then pushed that line down as much as 15 cents, to the -155 range.

The Astros could also be found at around -105 giving the run and a half on the MLB betting run line.

Set-Up

Houston just took two of three games at home from Toronto this week, winning Wednesday’s rubber match 7-6. The Astros trailed that game 5-0 after half an inning but rallied all the way back and won it on Alex Bregman’s two-run, walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth.

So Houston is 6-0 over its last six series and 17-3 over its last 20 games.

At 54-28 Houston leads the AL West by 3.5 games over second-place Seattle. The Astros also now trail Boston by just a half-game in the battle for the best record in the American League.

Tampa Bay, meanwhile, just swept a two-game series from Washington this week, winning Tuesday 1-0. The Rays scored the only run of the game in the bottom of the first, then got six innings of shut-out ball from starter Nathan Eovaldi and three scoreless innings from the bullpen.

So Tampa is 2-0 over its last two series and 5-0 over its last five games, a streak begun by a three-game sweep of the Yankees last weekend.

At 39-40 Tampa Bay trails the division-leading Red Sox by 14 games in the AL East, and sits 10 games back of Seattle in the battle for the second American League wild-card spot.

The Astros lead this season series two games to one, taking a series in Houston last week. Also, the unders went 2-1 in that series, as those games averaged just six total runs per.

On the personnel front Astros SS Carlos Correa has missed recent action with a sore back and his status for this series is uncertain.

Throwing Thursday

Stanek (1-1, 1.99) is making his eighth start of this season, as part of this experiment Tampa is running with relievers starting every fifth day or so. Last Saturday Stanek tossed 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief against the Yankees, and over his last 10 appearances he’s allowed zero runs and just four hits through 13 innings. The Rays are 3-4 in Stanek’s starts this year, with the unders going 4-3.

In two appearances last week against Houston Stanek threw 2 2/3 innings of hitless and scoreless ball. Stanek started one of those games, but Tampa lost it 5-4.

McCullers (8-3, 3.82), by our tough standards, is 10/16 on quality starts this season, working on a string of three in a row. Last Saturday he gave up three runs through six innings against Kansas City, with nine strikeouts, and over his last three starts he’s held opponents to seven earned runs through 19 innings. The Astros are 11-5 with McCullers this year, with the totals going 8-7.

This will be McCullers’ first start against the Rays since June of 2016, and that already seems like a long time ago.

Thursday’s Batting Splits

Houston ranks No. 2 in the Majors this year against right-handed pitching with a .261 team batting average, 3rd with a .334 team OBP and 5th with a .435 team slugging percentage.

Tampa ranks 10th against RHP with a .249 BA, 9th with a .321 OBP and 25th with a .381 slugging percentage.

We’re giving our baseball handicapping check-mark with the sticks to the Astros.

The Bullpens

The Houston bullpen ranks No. 2 in the ML with a 2.63 ERA and No. 1 with a 1.03 WHIP, while going 18/27 on save opportunities. Astros relievers threw 3 2/3 innings Wednesday and have thrown eight innings over the last three days.

The Rays pen ranks 9th in ERA at 3.56 and 7th in WHIP at 1.21 while going 21/31 on save chances. Tampa relievers threw three innings Tuesday, then had Wednesday off.

Houston also gets our check-mark in the comparison of the bullpens.

Totals Report

The unders are 18-16 in games played at Tropicana Field this season, which are averaging 7.4 runs per, lowest among all Major League ballparks.

Also, Tampa is 11-3 on the unders through its last 14 games, in part because the Rays have been held to three runs or less nine times during that span, while the pitching staff has thrown four shutouts.

Free MLB Picks

Tampa’s experiment with its bullpen starting games has been somewhat effective, although not all of that effectiveness has shown itself in the W/L columns. Meanwhile, Houston gets two of our main handicapping check-marks. We’re taking the Astros here, and we’ll chase a better price by giving the run and a half on the run line.