MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers

Date/Time: September 15, 8:00 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Collin McHugh (16-7, 3.89) vs. Derek Holland (3-2, 3.13)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Texas -110

Total: 9

Over the course of a 162-game season, there are certain special moments that allow fans to start truly thinking about the playoffs. One of those moments won the game for the Texas Rangers in the series opener against the Houston Astros on Monday night. Prince Fielder’s two-run blast in the eighth broke a 3-3 tie and the Rangers took the first game in this all-important AL West showdown. The Rangers have shuffled the rotation to send Derek Holland to the mound on Tuesday night against Collin McHugh. Holland was slated to face Dallas Keuchel on Wednesday. The Astros were still a narrow favorite early this morning, but as the rest of the books opened up, the Rangers were listed in the -110 to -115 range.

The win for the Rangers was doubly big. It pushed them to within just 0.5 games of first place and also allowed them to keep pace in the AL Wild Card standings. The New York Yankees hold the top wild card spot, three games ahead of the Rangers. The Rangers are up one game on the Minnesota Twins, four on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and 4.5 on the Cleveland Indians. A win on Tuesday night and the Rangers and Astros will flip atop the AL West, sending the Astros into the wild card lead, if Minnesota loses. Otherwise, the teams will be tied.

The Astros have to be frustrated with how things are going this month. Even though they are +2 in run differential, the Astros are just 4-8 over their first 12 games this month. Winning on the road has been an issue, even though Houston has a +25 run differential. They are just 29-43 away from Minute Maid Park. Collin McHugh will take the mound in this one in an effort to stop the bleeding. After turning in a strong month of April, McHugh had a 5.03 ERA over 13 starts from May 2 to July 4. Prior to getting shelled in his last start, McHugh had a 2.29 ERA over 59 innings from July 17 to September 4.

It’s been an inconsistent season for McHugh, who had some lofty expectations to live up to after posting a 2.73/3.11/3.11 pitcher slash over 25 starts last season. A big BABIP spike from .259 to .306 has affected his ERA in a big way. A drop in strikeouts has also been a contributing factor, especially with the FIP jump from 3.11 to 3.72. An average velocity drop of over a mile per hour on his fastball may have been a culprit as well, especially off of the Major League workload last season. The Rangers are just inside the top 10 in wOBA offensively, though their wRC+ suggests that the home ballpark has had a lot to do with their successes. Both teams get a bump in Arlington, but the Rangers have the fifth-best wOBA at home at .335.

In six starts at the Major League level this season, Derek Holland has showcased the upside that he had in 2013 and the start of 2014 before his dog submarined his season. Holland had to undergo knee surgery last year after tripping over his furry friend. A shoulder strain took away most of Holland’s 2015 campaign, but he’s back, and he’s pitching big innings for the Rangers down the stretch. Holland has quality starts in four of his six outings, including a complete game shutout of Baltimore with 11 punchouts on August 30. He has a 6-to-1 K/BB ratio on the year, but it’s hard to gather too much insight from his small sample sizes.

The Astros are a top-10 offense against lefties with a .321 wOBA. A big reason why is because they are tied with the Detroit Tigers for the second-best BB%. They are just outside the top five in SLG against lefties. This should be a good test for Holland, who has good control, but has also run into some command problems over that small sample size of games. The most powerful lineup he faced, the Toronto Blue Jays, hit three home runs off of him in six innings on August 25. It will be interesting to see how Holland changes up his repertoire in this start. His usage of fastball/slider is about 80 percent, but throwing some more offspeed stuff may be necessary against an aggressive Houston lineup.

MLB Expert Picks: Texas Rangers

This should be another great game in this series. My concern with the Astros lies in the fact that all the pressure is on them. They’ve had chances to put this division away and have failed. They are a very young team. The Rangers are pretty young, but do have veterans like Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo. They are also playing very free and easy right now. To use a football simile, the Astros are playing prevent defense while trying to hold on in the AL West. That’s not the way to win games.