MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Houston Astros

Date/Time: July 28, 8:10 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: CJ Wilson (8-7, 3.59) vs. Collin McHugh (11-5, 4.25)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Houston -120

Total: 8

First place is on the line this week at Minute Maid Park as the division-leading Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Houston Astros battle in AL West action. The Angels were 36-36 before going on a 19-7 run to surpass the Astros, who led the division by as many as seven games in the first half of the season. Like most young teams, the Astros have been very streaky this season. These two teams have split the first 10 meetings this season and this is a big one for both teams.

The Angels and Astros are both looking to add for the postseason push. The Astros already have by picking up Scott Kazmir from the Oakland Athletics for a couple of prospects. The Angels have not made any moves yet, but they are looking for a left-handed bat to add to their lineup. Some have speculated that the Angels may look at some starting pitching depth, but the emergence of Andrew Heaney seems to have shored up the rotation.

One guy that has been much better than expected is CJ Wilson. Wilson takes the mound on Tuesday with a 3.59 ERA, 3.71 FIP, and a 4.00 xFIP. Those aren’t ideal numbers, especially with half of his starts in a good pitcher’s park in Anaheim, but after last season, they are a big step up. Wilson has already doubled last season’s fWAR output and he has lowered his walk rate to what it was during his final season with the Rangers in 2011. His command has been better across the board, with weaker contact and fewer home runs allowed. All in all, the Angels needed this and they’ve gotten it.

Wilson must have done some work over the offseason to refine his changeup, which has regularly been an average or worse pitch, but is his best offering this season. He has also thrown more two-seam fastballs this season to keep hitters from barreling up the ball. A lot of these subtle improvements have taken Wilson from a below replacement-level pitcher to a solid middle of the rotation starter. It helps that the Angels have an above average defensive squad.

Collin McHugh has had some bumps in the road this season. Things are gradually improving, but his command has not been nearly as sharp as it was last season, when he posted a 2.73 ERA with a 3.11 FIP/xFIP in 25 starts. This season, McHugh has a 4.25 ERA with a 3.81 FIP and a 3.87 xFIP. A big drop in strikeouts has coincided with an increase in hard contact. McHugh’s performance last season probably created unrealistic expectations that are unfair to him. His fastball command has taken a big dive and he has thrown more sliders this season, which are harder to command. He seems like a guy uncertain on how to fix the problems and that makes a pitcher hard to back.

McHugh had 128 plate appearances that included a 2-1 count last season and 205 plate appearances that included a 1-2 count. This season the gap is closer with 101 and 144, respectively, this season. Usually the difference between 2-1 and 1-2 is somewhere around 75 points of average and a bigger jump in SLG. That has been as much to blame for anything as McHugh, especially with a drop-off in fastball command. Pitching from behind with nearly 60 percent usage of sliders and curveballs makes it hard to pitch.

MLB Prediction: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

This is a huge series for both teams, but it’s probably bigger for the Astros, and that could lead to some problems. The Astros are at their best when they are free and easy, staying within their approach and not chasing pitches. The Angels are a more experienced team and they are fully aware of McHugh’s struggles and how to exploit them.