MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Houston Astros

Date/Time: July 29, 8:10 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Garrett Richards (10-7, 3.25) vs. Lance McCullers (4-3, 2.60)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Houston -115

Total: 8

The radar guns behind home plate may overheat from Wednesday night’s pitching matchup at Minute Maid Park. Flamethrowers Garrett Richards and Lance McCullers will square off in this battle for first place in the AL West. Per PITCHf/x data, Richards has averaged 95.7 miles per hour with his fastball, while McCullers checks in at 94 miles per hour per heater. It will be a tough day to be a hitter when these two right-handers meet in the middle game of this three-game series.

Both the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Houston Astros are in a position to buy at the trade deadline. One team already has. The other team added a complementary piece, but they are looking for more. The Astros bolstered their rotation by adding Scott Kazmir, who dazzled last week against the Kansas City Royals in his first start. The Angels picked up veteran outfielder Shane Victorino from the Red Sox, but they are still in search of some additional pieces for the stretch run. One of these teams was expected to be in this situation and the other team wasn’t, which is part of the beauty of baseball.

The team supposed to be in this position is the Angels and their ace will be on the mound on Wednesday. Richards had a little bit of a late start to the season as his rehab continued from a severe injury he suffered covering first base in his final start last season. In 116.1 innings of work, Richards hasn’t been able to replicate the strikeout rate he enjoyed last season, but his bowling ball-like sinker is still inducing ground balls on over 53 percent of balls in play. As a result, Richards has been able to post a 3.25 ERA with a 3.64 FIP and a 3.88 xFIP.

That is decidedly higher than last season’s 2.61 ERA and 2.60 FIP, but his 3.15 xFIP had predictive value because of an unsustainably low home run rate in 2014. The fact that his walk rate and home run rates are up while his strikeout rate is down is why his FIP is nearly a full run higher this season. Regardless, Richards has good stuff and limits damage by keeping the ball on the ground. With a swinging strike rate in the same range as 2014, how much his strikeout rate has dropped is unexpected. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see his strikeout rate go up throughout the rest of the season, and especially with a start against the strikeout-heavy Astros.

Part of the reason why the Astros are in the position that they are in is because they have been aggressive with their prospects. Lance McCullers made six appearances, four starts, at the Double-A level and then made his Major League debut. McCullers has a 2.60 ERA with a 2.86 FIP and a 3.49 xFIP in 12 starts. He has already been worth 1.8 wins per Fangraphs’s WAR calculation. The scary thing is that McCullers could be even more unhittable if he improves on his 56 percent first-pitch strike rate.

The Astros have taken an aggressive approach with McCullers, rotation mate Vincent Velasquez, and budding superstar shortstop Carlos Correa. They’ve gotten good returns on all three players and then used the trade market to shore up their starting rotation weakness. They spent a lot of money on the bullpen, which may be a growing trend, since the Astros are one of the most analytical teams in baseball and decided that bullpen spending was of utmost importance. Of course, it helped that they had a good core of young position players like Correa, George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Jake Marisnick.

MLB Prediction: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

How will the Angels fare against a heavy sinker like the one that Richards throws? I don’t believe in small sample sizes, but Richards threw 6.2 innings of one-hit, one-run ball with 10 strikeouts the last time he faced them. His first start back off the DL was against the Astros and it was a struggle. Given Richards’s swinging strike rate and arsenal, the Astros should be a good matchup for him.