The Oakland Athletics have a chance to supplant the Houston Astros as AL West champions this season, and can lengthen their 4.5-game lead beginning with Saturday's doubleheader.
This three-game series was originally scheduled to begin Friday, but a protest by both teams right before the action began led to a postponement and make-up date today.
Houston has lost four of six following an eight-game winning streak, while the A's are coming off back-to-back wins against Texas and are able to stay close by in the Lone Star State amid a 10-game road trip.
In abe Insights' preview of Game 1 in Saturday's doubleheader, you'll find strong analysis of the main betting lines, advanced stats and the best odds available across all the major sportsbooks for this exciting duel on the diamond.
Date: Saturday, August 29
Time: 4:10 p.m. ET
TV: NBC Sports California; AT&T SportsNet Southwest
Implied Probabilities: Athletics 47%; Astros 57%
Spread: OAK +1.5 (-175); HOU -1.5 (+155)
Moneyline: OAK +115; HOU -133
Astros third baseman Alex Bregman is still on the injured list with a strained hamstring, which robs the hosts of an invaluable bat in their lineup. Nevertheless, Houston still has enough firepower to get to A's starter Chris Bassitt, who has a 4.32 ERA in three road starts.
Bassitt will face off against Lance McCullers Jr., who's really struggled on the mound throughout the 2020 campaign with a 5.74 ERA. However, McCullers does have a 2-0 record and 1.93 ERA at home, where the Astros are thankfully able to play after Hurricane Laura passed through.
5.09 vs. 4.08: In the all-encompassing stat of Expected Fielding Independent Pitching, the A's relievers have Houston's beat in a big way. The first figure is that of the Astros' xFIP, which is fourth-worst in MLB, while the visitors boast the fourth-lowest total.
26.2 vs. 19.7: Whereas Oakland has a batting strikeout percentage that ranks in MLB's five highest, Houston has the second-lowest K rate. Rattling a shaky road pitcher like Bassitt — even without fans — will be easier if the Astros can make contact early.
5.8 vs. 3.7: Despite the strikeout disparity, the Athletics are elite and deep on offense, evident in their Wins Above Replacement total on FanGraphs. Oakland's WAR rates as the fourth-best, and Houston is more toward the middle of the pack (tied for 13th).
When these rivals met earlier this month, Oakland pulled off a three-game sweep to cap off a string of nine successive victories, including a 7-2 series finale in which the A's and Astros benches cleared as tempers flared. The animosity stems from ex-Houston pitcher Mike Fiers, now with Oakland, blowing the whistle on the 'Stros' sign-stealing scandal.
Well, the Astros got caught cheating their way to a championship. Fiers was just doing what was right, and not to mention, the A's had to look up from second place the previous two seasons while Houston claimed the AL East crown. It's hard enough for Oakland with such a limited payroll, and it's not the worst thing that the 'Stros got called out.
If anything, the cheating scandal only adds spice to this divisional battle. Having said that, these clubs showed solidarity on Friday, walking off the field and draping a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on home plate during Jackie Robinson Day. Considering how they left things and how tensions were high in their last encounter, the teams showed a lot of class.
Back to the first leg of this doubleheader, though: It's worth breaking down Game 1's starting pitchers and styles, which differ in a key way. McCullers throws a ridiculous amount of curveballs, as they've accounted for 35.5% of his pitches. He primarily deploys sinkers and changeups otherwise. Bassitt's sinker is his go-to heater, but he also has a cutter he's thrown 20.5% of the time in 2020.
Both pitchers like to keep the ball down, yet it seems like Bassitt is more vulnerable to getting tagged on Friday given his poor road splits on the season. On the other hand, McCullers has been the less consistent pitcher overall, and his high amount of curveballs better not hang too often, because the A's have too much power not to capitalize.
There's no question Oakland seemed to have the mental edge in the last series, and the Astros are in the position of needing to press to ascend in the division race. Thus, look for wagers on the moneyline to favor the A's, with Houston's spread being a wise hedge bet.
Due to how inconsistent Friday's starting hurlers have been in 2020 and how dangerous both these lineups are, look for bets to trend toward the Over on total runs, despite it being a rather high total for seven innings.
Note: Odds current as of 8:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, August 29.
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