MLB Betting Notes: Astros-Angels Clash For AL West Division Lead
Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Jaime Barria. Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports
Thanks to an absolute gem from starter Andrew Heaney and a superb defensive play from Kole Calhoun, the Angels tied the Astros atop the AL West on Monday.
Kole’s cannon. pic.twitter.com/oM2rzHUNuT
— MLB (@MLB) May 15, 2018
That tie will be broken tonight in what looks like a massive pitching mismatch on paper. Let’s take a closer look at those starting pitchers and analyze a few other key betting angles.
Houston Astros (-180) at Los Angeles Angels (+162) | O/U: 8
Gerrit Cole (4-1, 1.43 ERA) vs. Jaime Barria (3-1, 2.45 ERA)
10:07 p.m. ET
Aces Wild: Despite a quality start, Lance McCullers took the loss in Game 1 of the series Monday night. However, he did lower his season ERA to an impressive 3.63. Amazingly, he has the highest ERA of the five Houston starters. How dominant has the Astros’ starting rotation been this season? Just take a look at the American League leaders in ERA among qualified pitchers:
Yes, the top three all pitch for Houston. If you expand that list to the top 12, you’d also find Dallas Keuchel, and all five (including McCullers) rank in the top 25. Wild. — Stuckey
Cole World: Cole, tonight’s starter, has the second-lowest ERA in the American League, but other metrics suggest he’s been the best pitcher in all of baseball. He owns the lowest FIP (1.54) and xFIP (2.24) among all qualified pitchers. His silly 35.6% K/BB ratio also leads the majors.
Cole’s lone loss this season came against the Halos, but he did his part by allowing only two runs on four hits over seven innings. He will have to pitch extra carefully to the red-hot Justin Upton, who is 5-for-14 (.357) lifetime against the former 2011 first overall pick. However, the other current Angels have not enjoyed much success at the plate against Cole — combining to go just 11-for-85 (.129). — Stuckey
Cole owns a 40-27 career road record on the moneyline, netting bettors +6.8 units of profit. However, the right-hander has actually lost bettors money (-1.6 units) on the road inside of his division. He has done almost all of his road damage outside of the division: +8.4 units.
So far this season, Cole has been nearly unhittable on the road — regardless of the opponent — posting a 0.62 ERA. In fact, he has allowed only five extra-base hits to the 104 hitters he’s faced away from home. — Evan Abrams
Red Flags: By now, you know we love to poke holes in fun stories ‘round these parts. Next on the docket: Angels starting pitcher Jaime Barria, whose 2.45 ERA looks impressive on the surface — but there’s a regression elephant in the room.
In 18.1 innings, Barria has struggled to put hitters away (6.38 K/9), while also issuing too many walks (3.44 BB/9). That’s a recipe for disaster in the long run. He’s also benefited from a very fortunate .255 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) and an unsustainable 84.1% strand rate. Taking all of these factors into consideration, you can see why his xFIP (a better indicator of results than ERA) sits at 4.90 — double his ERA.
With that out of the way, it’s safe to assume Barria won’t go deep into this game, which means the Angels’ bullpen will have to do some heavy lifting. So far this year, LA’s relievers rank 15th with a 4.19 xFIP, 17th with a 9.16 K/9 rate and 19th with a 3.84 BB/9. Nothing to write home about. — Michael Leboff
Pen Problems: As Michael just mentioned, the Angels’ pen hasn’t pitched great this year. Well, things will get even tougher now, as they had to place closer Keynan Middleton on the DL with a UCL injury. Although it’s not clear if he’ll need Tommy John surgery, many Halo fans are holding their breath.
Middleton has excelled on paper with a 2.04 ERA and six saves, but honestly, he wasn’t going to keep up his current pace. His xFIP of 4.80 (far higher than his ERA) speaks to that fact. He had a subpar 1.78 K/BB rate and a very low 5.3% home run-to-fly ball ratio.
In the meantime, the Angels will have to find someone else to fill his role. And they don’t have many viable candidates from a bullpen that ranks 20th in fWAR. In Monday’s game, they called on reliever Justin Anderson (5.23 ERA) to get the save, which he did despite giving up two hits and walking a batter. He can thank Calhoun for that catch and throw we previously showed.
If I were to wear manager Mike Scioscia’s shoes, I’d probably choose Jose Alvarez for the job. Despite not having closer experience, he sports a career-high strikeout rate and probably has the best stuff for the job.
I ultimately believe the Angels’ lack of true elite bullpen arms will catch up with them over the long run. I don’t expect them to continue winning at the clip they have to start the season. — Mark Gallant
Prosperous Pen: On the other hand, while the Astros still struggle at times in the ninth inning, their pen has thrived this season. They boast the league’s fifth-lowest ERA (3.10) and lowest FIP (2.88).
What does the Houston pen do so well? Avoid walks, which kill so many relievers. The Astros’ bullpen owns a league-low 6.5% BB rate. They also have arms with elite strikeout stuff, as evidenced by their 27.4% K rate — third-highest in MLB. Pretty simple formula, but very effective. — Stuckey
Chalk Talk: Houston opened at -165 before being bet up to -180. Moneyline favorites of -175 or greater have started this season 25-7 (78%) — winning on average by 2.44 runs. — John Ewing