Houston has taken the first two of this three-game series against the Mariners after last night’s 2-1 victory behind the solid outing from Lance McCullers. The Astros’ bullpen has thrown five scoreless innings in this series, posting an impressive 8/2 K/BB rate.
The Astros send recently-acquired Charlie Morton to the mound tonight, and the 33-year-old is coming off a terrific spring wherein he posted a 1.04 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in five starts, a period covering 17.1 innings.
Among pitchers who started games in both 2015 and 2016, Morton had the third-biggest fastball-velocity improvement, behind only David Phelps and James Paxton. During one spring training outing in March, Morton’s sinker hit between 94 and 96 mph.
The increased velocity simply enhances Morton’s elite ground ball tendencies. The underrated right-hander owns a lifetime ground ball rate of 55.4%, including garnering a 57.3% ground ball rate in 2015 and a 62.8% ground ball rate last season.
Of course, Morton missed most of the 2016 campaign after tearing his hamstring running out a bunt in the first month of the regular season. In 17.1 innings of work, Morton posted a 4.15 ERA, 3.09 FIP and 3.56 SIERA, together with a 26.8% strikeout rate.
Prior to his injury, scouts has reported that Morton possessed his “hardest sinker, his hardest curveball, and his hardest splitter, plus a new-ish, hard cutter.” Let’s also note that Morton’s curveball ranks tenth in average spin rate, out of 507 qualified Major League Baseball pitchers.
With increased velocity and a corresponding uptick in strikeouts, the Astros hope that Morton becomes one of the team’s most dominant starters in 2017. With an elite ground ball rate already in his pocket, I expect the undervalued hurler to excel in Houston.
Seattle left-hander James Paxton has always possessed the skills to be a breakout candidate, but injuries and a lack of command have hampered his progress. The 28-year-old is coming off a a decent 2016 campaign wherein he posted a 3.79 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, including career-bests in strikeout, walk, swinging strike and first-pitch strike rates.
A mechanical change also helped Paxton reach a career-high in velocity from the left side last season (96.8%), and optimism once again surrounds the southpaw. With a 2.80 FIP and 3.54 SIERA last season, that optimism certainly seems justified.
However, Paxton is 1-2 with a 4.88 ERA in four career starts against the Astros. He also had a higher ERA and lower strikeout rates on foreign soil in 2016, and the Mariners are 1-5 in Paxton’s last six starts versus teams with a winning record (3-7 L/10 away) and 5-14 in Paxton’s last nineteen outings on grass.
Meanwhile, Houston is 13-6 in its last nineteen games against left-handed starters and 4-1 in umpire Doug Eddings’ last five games behind home plate at Minute Maid Park.
I like Houston at a very reasonable price of -115 to -120 in this Major League Baseball clash between division foes. I would also take a strong look at the UNDER 7.5 runs as the UNDER is 19-7-2 in Eddings’ last 28 games (involving Seattle) calling balls and strikes.
The UNDER is also 7-3 in Seattle’s last ten road games and 11-5-1 in Seattle’s last 17 games versus a right-handed starter.
Oskeim Sports’ Major League Baseball Free Sports Picks:
- Houston Astros (-118)
- UNDER 7.5 runs