MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers

Date/Time: September 17, 8:05 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Lance McCullers (5-5, 3.10) vs. Colby Lewis (15-8, 4.45)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Texas -110

Total: 9

The betting market is split on Thursday’s series finale between the Houston Astros and the Texas Rangers. Some markets have Lance McCullers and the Astros favored, while others have Colby Lewis and the Rangers as small chalk. Whatever the case, this is a huge game for both teams. The Astros need to stop the bleeding, as they have fallen out of first place in the division and into the second wild card spot. The Rangers can extend their lead to 2.5 games with 16 games to play. Texas is going for a sweep in this series.

The decline of the Houston Astros has been stunning. After posting no worse than a .500 record over each of the first five months of the season, the Astros have dropped 10 of 14 in September. Things reached a new low when they got trucked by the Rangers in Wednesday’s 14-3 shellacking. Yesterday’s preview focused on the psychology of the Astros after two close, crippling losses on Monday and Tuesday. Is it better to lose a close one or to get your brains beaten in as it pertains to the next game? The Rangers, who were a surprise team in the first few months of the season, tailed off in the middle, but they have now won 36 of their 57 second-half games. They entered the Break at 42-46.

Starts don’t get a whole lot bigger for 21-year-olds than the one that Lance McCullers has on Thursday night. McCullers, who made the jump from Double-A straight to the big leagues after just 32 innings at that level, has a 3.10 ERA with a 2.96 FIP and a 3.58 xFIP in 18 starts in the majors. After posting a 2.52 ERA in 64.1 first half innings with a .201/.286/.288 slash against, McCullers has a 4.10 with a .270/.325/.452 in the second half over 37.1 innings. But, as we stress here at BangTheBook, small sample sizes are deceiving. McCullers has allowed three runs or less in six of his seven starts. His ERA is skewed by a start in which he allowed six runs in one-third of an inning. That start was against the Texas Rangers.

The thing you notice the most about McCullers’s second half is the lack of consistency in getting strikeouts. On one hand, it’s a worry, because balls in play are never a good thing. On another hand, it shows that his stuff is good enough to get outs without swings and misses. McCullers has averaged better than a strikeout per inning this season, but his K% has dropped from 27.1 percent in the first half to 19.4 percent in the second half. This is the biggest start of McCullers’s career. How will he handle the nerves?

Colby Lewis shined last time out, carrying a no-hitter into the eighth inning. He gave up two hits overall and one didn’t leave the infield. Normally bettors look to avoid pitchers that throw complete games because of the workload, but Lewis threw a “Maddux”. The “Maddux”, coined by Jason Lukehart, is a complete game shutout with less than 100 pitches. Lewis threw 97, so it was no different than a regular start. It was, however, a lot different than a regular start for Lewis because he had allowed 18 runs over 15.2 innings in his three previous outings.

Lewis has a 4.45/4.23/4.62 pitcher slash on the season, but sabermetrics don’t look favorably on low strikeout pitchers with fly ball splits. That’s exactly what Lewis is. The big thing for him is that he doesn’t walk too many hitters. His batted ball luck with runners in scoring position has been poor, which explains the 4.45 ERA. He has only stranded 66.9 percent of his runners. The 36-year-old has been through a lot on the injury front and was a big part of the 2010 and 2011 World Series teams, so he’s been in pressure situations like this before.

Free MLB Pick: Texas Rangers

The Astros are in big trouble. They’re a young team with an inexperienced manager and the pressure is building. Their hopes to avoid a sweep fall on a 21-year-old. McCullers has great raw stuff, but this is a very difficult spot against an experienced veteran. The Rangers are riding the wave of momentum right now and it won’t stop on Thursday.