The Astros and Athletics are the only AL West teams with serious playoff aspirations. Houston just dropped two of three in Chicago to the White Sox, but the Astros remain very much in control of things in the division. The ‘Stros enter Thursday’s series opener in the Bay Area sporting a healthy 9.5 game lead over the A’s. Houston has its sights set on the World Series already.
While a surge isn’t impossible, the A’s playoff chances likely hinge on whether they can nab a Wild Card spot. Oakland enters Thursday’s game two games back of the Tampa Bay Rays for the No. 2 position, and they’re 3.5 games back of the Cleveland Indians for the top spot. Oakland is about to embark on a very difficult homestand that sees Houston (four games) and the New York Yankees (three games) come to town. The A’s have no more games against the Indians or Rays this season, so they are going to have to make up ground indirectly.
Newcomer Aaron Sanchez will take the ball for the Astros in the series opener, while former Astro Mike Fiers will climb the mound for Oakland.
|2019 ATR Home||32-26-0||29-29-0|
|2019 ATR Away||31-32-0||37-25-0|
|2019 O/U Home||24-30-4||26-32-0|
|2019 O/U Away||29-34-0||29-32-1|
Sanchez was one of the best pitchers in the American League back in 2016, but injuries have hampered his production ever since. He seemed to hit a wall in Toronto, but the Astros decided to take a chance on the 27-year-old by snapping him up just prior to the trade deadline. Houston sent outfielder Derek Fisher to the Jays in exchange for Sanchez and reliever Joe Biagini on deadline day.
The Astros have a track record for transforming pitchers, and through two starts, Sanchez looks like a new man. The California native threw six no-hit innings in his first outing as an Astro in what turned out to be a combined no-hitter against the Mariners back on August 3rd. A week later, he held the Orioles to a run on three hits over the course of five solid innings.
Sanchez has thrown his four-seam fastball and curveball almost exclusively across his two outings for Houston to this point, while he seems to have almost completely scrapped his two-seamer. The results have certainly been there so far. On the season, Sanchez has a 19.3% strikeout rate and an 11.3% walk rate. Through two starts with the Astros, the right-hander has racked up 12 strikeouts in 11 innings with five walks.
Sanchez has been excellent, and he’s held right-handed hitters to a tiny .086 wOBA without a hit through two games with his new team. He’ll be tested tonight, as the A’s are likely to throw six to seven right-handed bats into the lineup against him tonight. The projected Oakland lineup has a collective 23.5% strikeout rate against right-handed pitching this season.
Fiers threw a no-hitter during his time with the Astros, but his tenure in Houston was otherwise unremarkable. He’s gotten good results so far this season in Oakland, but there’s nothing at all special about his underlying numbers. Fiers boasts a record of 11-3 with a 3.30 ERA through 25 starts this season, but his other numbers make that win-loss record and ERA look very lucky.
Fiers has a low 16.6% strikeout rate, and he’s allowed hard hits at a 37.3% clip. His fly ball tendency comes in handy in his spacious home ballpark, but his 5.22 SIERA and 5.27 xFIP show that his ERA is pretty flukey. The right-hander has allowed 18 home runs this season. Considering he’s allowed at least 30 in each of the last two years, the fact that he hasn’t even yielded 20 to this point is fairly impressive.
Fiers is a reverse-splits righty, which means right-handed hitters tend to enjoy more success against him. 11 of the 18 homers he’s conceded this season have been hit by RHBs, and the Astros are another righty-heavy lineup. Houston hitters have a collective wOBA of .380 with a hefty .241 ISO vs. RHP on the season. The lefties he’ll face (Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley) have absolutely crushed righties as well, so there are no easy outs in this lineup for Fiers.
The Astros’ lineup is fully healthy these days, which means Fiers will have to run the gauntlet of a team full of All-Star caliber hitters. It’s just hard to envision him having much success in this spot. He’s gotten good results this season, but I have to believe he’s going to come crashing back to earth at some point. Through three starts against his former club this season, the 34-year-old has allowed 10 runs on 17 hits in 16 innings of work. That’s good for a 5.63 ERA. While he’s fared well against other teams, the Astros have given him trouble.
I’m a believer in what the Astros are able to do when it comes to tinkering with pitchers. While I don’t think Sanchez will necessarily continue to be dominant, he has shown in the past that he’s capable of being an above-average starter at this level. The A’s lineup is the weaker of the two offenses in this game, and Houston has the edge on the mound, too.
I like Houston here. The value in betting on the Astros to win outright on the moneyline is passable (-125), but the real fun comes on the runline. I’ll take the Astros to cover the runline at +125 for the Astros vs Athletics game.
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