MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers

Date/Time: September 16, 8:05 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Dallas Keuchel (17-7, 2.22) vs. Martin Perez (2-5, 5.43)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Houston -145

Total: 8.5

After another brutal loss on Tuesday night, one has to wonder about the psychological state of the Houston Astros. A surprise contender that seemed to be in control of the AL West, the Astros have fallen out of first place at the hands of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers vaulted into first place on the strength of a 6-5 walk-off win to take the first two games in the series. Dallas Keuchel, potentially the AL Cy Young Award favorite, will have to stop the bleeding in this matchup against Martin Perez.

Nobody is quite sure how the Texas Rangers are doing this. By Pythagorean Win-Loss, a win-loss record based on run differential, the Rangers are a 70-74 team, but they are seven games better than that and now lead the AL West. The Rangers are also just 27-34 against divisional foes. The Astros, by Pyth W-L, should be 84-61 with one of the best run differentials in baseball. The Rangers were just 7-14 in April, but they are 17 games over .500 since the start of May. The Astros, who led by 5.5 games on August 26, are trailing in the division for the first time since July 25.

Dallas Keuchel has a lot on his shoulders in this start. Collin McHugh only lasted 3.2 innings on Tuesday night, so the Astros bullpen could certainly use some length from the starter. Keuchel will pass Clayton Kershaw for the most innings pitched in MLB this season, barring a complete disaster, so the Astros have to feel good about him working deep into this one. Keuchel abandoned his curveball a few years ago and worked on developing a slider and it has made all the difference. He used to be a pitch-to-contact, ground ball guy. He’s still a ground ball guy, but now he’s striking out 23.8 percent of opposing batters.

Scott Kazmir had a good outing on Monday night against the Rangers and Keuchel could have similar, if not better, results. The Rangers are 19th in wOBA against lefties on the season, but they have an 88 wRC+, which ranks 22nd, so Globe Life Park has provided some assistance against southpaws, but not nearly enough. The problem for Keuchel is the emotional state of his teammates. The Astros are a very young team that is experiencing a playoff race and success much earlier than most people expected. The added pressure seems to be getting to them. Two close, late-inning losses in this series aren’t going to help in that regard.

Martin Perez has made 10 Major League starts this season in his return from Tommy John surgery. Perez made six rehab starts between Double-A and Triple-A before joining the Rangers right after the All-Star Break. He’s allowed less than three runs only once in those 10 starts, but he hasn’t pitched particularly bad, except for one outing against the Yankees in late July. That start, eight earned over one inning, is enough to blow up an ERA and Perez has been working to battle back in that category ever since.

It’s hard to gauge what kind of matchup this is for the Astros. Perez, like Keuchel, is an extreme ground ball guy. But, he doesn’t have the swing and miss stuff that Keuchel has and the biggest issue for the Astros offense is that they swing and miss a significant amount. Perez has not had more than four strikeouts in each of his last five outings. One benefit for the Rangers is that ground ball pitchers don’t give up a lot of extra base hits, so the opposing offense needs to manufacture runs by stringing singles and the occasional double together. Can the Astros offense do that? On the year, 302 of Houston’s 633 runs have come via home runs.

MLB Expert Pick: Texas Rangers

I’m a big believer in Dallas Keuchel, but I’m not a believer in the Houston Astros right now. The Astros are playing really tight and nothing seems to be going their way in close games lately. The Astros definitely have a pitching matchup advantage, but their hitters are stepping in the box with a lot of extra pressure on themselves and hitters have more success when they are relaxed.