MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers

Date/Time: August 3, 8:05 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Lance McCullers (5-3, 2.48) vs. Colby Lewis (11-4, 4.42)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Houston -130

Total: 9

When looking ahead at the season, not many people would have been surprised to hear that the Texas Rangers would be 51-53 when they began a series against the Houston Astros on August 3. Had you told them that the Astros would be 60-46 and atop the AL West, you might have been laughed at. In this battle for the Lone Star State, the Astros come into the series with a comfortable lead in the AL West and a lot to be excited about.

The trade deadline was kind to both of these teams. The Houston Astros pretty much got the week started by acquiring Houston native Scott Kazmir to bolster their rotation. They didn’t stop there. The Astros also added Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers. What made Gomez and Fiers such attractive additions is that they are more than just two-month rentals and that deal with the Brewers sets the Astros up very well for 2016. The Rangers also made a blockbuster deal with next season in mind, acquiring Cole Hamels from the Philadelphia Phillies for two big bat prospects, Matt Harrison, and three other arms. The Rangers desperately needed starting rotation help and they got it.

One of the reasons that the Astros are having such a great season is because of how aggressive they have been in promoting their minor leaguers. Lance McCullers, Vincent Velasquez, and Carlos Correa all began the season in Double-A. Velasquez is back there now, but McCullers and Correa have been extremely helpful. McCullers has been dynamite this season. After just four starts and two relief appearances in Double-A, McCullers, son of the former Major Leaguer with the same name, is 5-3 over 13 starts with a 2.48 ERA, 2.77 FIP, and 3.43 xFIP. With a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and a devastating hammer, McCullers has proven that he belongs and then some. McCullers’s curveball, which is classified two different ways by PITCHf/x, is 14.6 runs above average this season. That’s better than Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Corey Kluber.

With this dynamic arsenal, McCullers has averaged better than a strikeout per inning, but it’s all the weak contact that may be even more impressive. If there’s one knock on McCullers, it’s the lack of length that he has given the Astros. He has failed to go at least six innings in six of his 13 starts. That’s a small knock on him, however, because the Astros have a strong bullpen. It is, however, an indication of how he can be effectively wild and drive up some high pitch counts.

If McCullers’s stuff would be considered overpowering, Colby Lewis’s stuff is undoubtedly the opposite. But, what Lewis lacks in explosiveness, he makes up for with control. Lewis has only walked 25 batters in 132.1 innings of work so far this season and has missed a respectable number of bats. For the second straight season, however, Lewis has had problems stranding runners. It led to a 5.18 ERA in 2014 and has led to a 4.42 ERA in 2015. His 67.1 percent strand rate is about five percent below league average.

Being a fly ball pitcher in Arlington is always a concern. Lewis has largely made it work, though it’s not a huge surprise to see a 4.76 ERA at home compared to a 4.11 ERA on the road. After missing the entire 2013 season due to injury, it’s kind of a medical marvel that Lewis is even out there and being somewhat effective. After having some of the worst fastball command in the league last season, he has improved across the board in most categories. Frankly, it’s admirable to see what Lewis has done, but it’s obviously not anything that gets baseball bettors excited.

MLB Prediction: Houston Astros

There’s just not enough to like about Colby Lewis to take what appears to be a decent amount of value on the home team. McCullers doesn’t have to work deep into games for the Astros to be effective and their hitters should have success in this series. Lewis’s command has improved this season, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some regression in his HR/FB% in this start. Lewis’s current rate is 8.3 percent, which is 2.5 percent below his career average. The Astros have plenty of power and it may be on display here.