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Astros Turn to Prize Rookie vs. Texas

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Updated: .June 14, 2017

By Charles Jay

The Houston Astros are probably going to the playoffs, as they have a big lead in their division. But the Texas Rangers are going to make themselves heard in the wild card scramble, at the very least, and they will go after their sixth straight victory on Wednesday night as these teams battle at Minute Maid Park in a game that begins at 8:10 PM ET. Remember that at America’s Bookie you’ll have a chance to place your wagers even after the first pitch, with two different “Live Betting” options at your disposal.

One of the better starting rotations in baseball is now severely wounded. Dallas Keuchel, who has won a Cy Young Award and was on his way to contending for another, is having problems with nerves in his neck. He won’t return until the end of the month. Lance McCullers, one of the best #2 starters in the American League, is having back issues and it has not been made clear when he could possibly return. Colin McHugh has an “impingement” in his right elbow (we’re not even going to look that up) and will be out of action until at least the All-Star break. Charlie Morton has a lat strain and is also out of the rotation for a period that has yet to be determined.

It’s a good thing Houston built a pretty good cushion in the American League West, because they are now down to a skeleton crew. They are at 44-22, and they have an eleven-game lead. But inasmuch as they are slumping a little and the Texas Rangers have won five games in a row to pull into a tie for second place, anxiety can set it rather quickly.

What’s scary about what the Rangers have done is that they have scored these five wins against teams who were – at least at the time – the two best in the majors, not to mention the two best offensively. Three of those victories came against the high-powered Washington Nationals, who are now sitting with a record that is just behind the L.A. Dodgers and Colorado Rockies in the overall NL picture, and there have been consecutive wins in this series, as Texas had held the Astros to just three runs.

Could pitching be playing a part in it? Well, you tell me – the Rangers’ staff has allowed nine runs in the last five games. And we should add that their last six have gone under the total. Houston is now a loser in six of the last eight, and during that period they have surrendered 49 runs.

OK, so these teams are going in different directions at the moment. Could a first-time starter get the Astros moving in the right direction?

We’ll see, as Francis Martes enters the fray in something of an emergency situation against Andrew Cashner (3-5, 3.17 ERA) of the Rangers.

In the baseball odds that have been posted on this game, Houston is favored:

Houston Astros (Martes) -160
Texas Rangers (Cashner) +140

Under 9.5 Runs -115
Over 9.5 Runs -105

Rangers +1.5 Runs -145
Astros -1.5 Runs +125

The 21-year-old Martes, from the Dominican Republic, is considered to be the best pitching prospect in the Houston organization. He hasn’t just been called up, either. He pitched on Friday in a relief role, giving up four runs in 3-2/3 innings of a loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Brad Peacock made the start in that game, and to give you an idea of how muddled Houston’s pitching situation is, he went out there on three days’ notice on Tuesday, with expectations to simply go on something resembling a long relief stint. He went 4-2/3 innings, striking out ten.

Naturally the question has to be asked as to whether, at this juncture, Martes is being rushed into this particular assignment. The answer you would get from Jeff Luhnow is that (a) he has confidence in the youngster, and (b) there isn’t really much of a choice. And the relief corps will be ready once again, you can be certain of that.

No one is kidding around when they talk about Martes’ stuff, which includes a fastball that can get up near the 100 mph mark. So he should be able to strike out some people. The more interesting part, for those who have followed him, is what he’ll do with the breaking stuff.

A lot of people believe he is best suited to a relief role in the long run, and perhaps his big problem here is that this is the major leagues. He only had eight starts at the Triple-A level, with a 5.29 ERA and 2.10 WHIP, with the opposition hitting almost .300 against him. This guy has walked 28 batter in 32 innings, and as we have stated before, control doesn’t suddenly appear once you get to the “show.” More likely than not, those difficulties will be exacerbated, at least initially.

And against a team playing as well as Texas is, we are not going to bet on a guy with those numbers, no matter how bright his future might appear to be. So we’re with the hot dog here (get it?), taking the Rangers and the price, as the Charles Jay / America’s Bookie Challenge continues.

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