There was a time, not so long ago, that the Houston Astros seemed like a shoo-in for the American League West crown this season. But the Astros need to start playing better — starting with Wednesday night’s game at the Los Angeles Angels — if they’re going to hold onto the lead by the end of the month.
Houston is just 2-4 since the All-Star break and has seen its lead atop the division shrink to 4.5 games over Oakland. Including tonight’s game, the Astros’ next eight games are against division foes who are looking to make up ground against them, which includes the red-hot Angels. Los Angeles has now won five straight after taking the first two games of this series, pulling it within nine games of the Astros and within 4.5 games of the second Wild Card spot in the American League.
The moneyline for this contest has the Houston Astros -180 and the Los Angeles Angels +165. The over/under has been set at 9.
Cole Gets Start
The Astros have one of their best pitchers on the mound tonight with Gerrit Cole looking to extend a personal five-game winning streak. Cole hasn’t taken a loss since May 22 and is now 9-5 with a 3.23 ERA on the season. The right-hander faced the Angels just 10 days ago, going seven shutout innings, allowing three hits and striking out nine while walking just two in picking up the win. He had a rougher outing in his last start, giving up four earned runs on three home runs in six innings in a no-decision against Texas.
The Houston offense has lots of balance, with eight players coming into this game with 10 or more home runs. Alex Bregman leads the way with 24 home runs as well as team-high totals of 59 RBI and 66 runs. All-Star Michael Brantley has been hitting well all season, leading the team with a .324 batting average and 25 doubles, but he has just one extra-base hit since the All-Star break.
Return Of The Star
Mike Trout hasn’t played since he was pulled after two innings of the Angels’ game Sunday with a strained right calf. He’s expected to return for this contest, which would give Los Angeles even more firepower against Cole. On the season, Trout leads the American League in home runs (30), RBI (75) and walks (77), ranks second in runs scored (74) and is eighth in batting average (.305). Albert Pujols has been heating up since the All-Star break, batting .375 with two doubles, a home runs, and 10 RBI.
Felix Pena will get the majority of the time on the mound for Los Angeles in this one, though he’ll likely enter the game after the Angels go with an opener to start the contest. The last time Pena pitched, he came into the game in the third inning and pitched seven innings of no-hit ball, completing a combined no-hitter with opener Taylor Cole. On the season, Pena is 7-2 with a 4.32 ERA in his 18 appearances, just four of them starts.
Tuesday’s game featured a confrontation between Pujols and the Astros’ bench after Houston outfielder Jake Marisnick was hit by a pitch in the sixth inning. Marisnick had an ugly collision at home plate with Angels catcher Jonathan Lucroy in the last game before the All-Star break that drew him a two-game suspension and has sidelined Lucroy ever since. Los Angeles is playing with a ton of confidence right now, especially with the expected return of Trout. But Cole has handled them — and most everyone — well this season, making it hard to go against the Astros. I’m picking Houston -180 to get the win.