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MLB expert Matt Zylbert is back with his pick for Sunday's Houston Astros vs. Tampa Bay Rays​​​​​​​ game

Houston Astros vs. Tampa Bay Rays

Over/Under: 8.5

First pitch: 7:37 p.m. ET


Venue: Petco Park

Probable pitchers: Framber Valdez (5-3, 3.57 ERA) vs. Blake Snell (4-2, 3.24 ERA)

Houston Astros vs. Tampa Bay Rays​​​​​​​ Predictions

When trying to decipher deep-postseason games, it’s important to note the direction each starting pitcher looks to be headed.

In the case of Framber Valdez, the arrow appears to be pointing straight up. The 26-year-old has shown flashes of some sort of breakout since first debuting a couple of years ago. This season involved his first full-time starting gig with the Astros and the left-hander didn’t disappoint one bit, etching a very commendable 3.57 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 10 starts (and one relief appearance).

As solid as those numbers look at first glance, Valdez was actually better than that — especially considering he had to deal with a pretty unlucky .312 batting average on balls put in play against him. In the end, Valdez registered a 2.85 FIP.

Not only was he racking up strikeouts at a healthy rate (9.68 K/9), Valdez consistently drew the type of contact he would want from the lumber he faced. Hitters were pulling the ball off him only 34.6 percent of the time this season, a steep fall from where that mark was in 2019 (44.1 percent) and 2018 (47.8 percent).

Above all, Valdez comes in to this American League Championship Series opener in a groove. In his first two postseason games (one start) — the first two of his career — Valdez notched a 1.50 ERA across 12 innings and was victorious in both, including one that admirably saw him fill in for an early-departed Zack Greinke.

He’s continued to be very consistent, pitching Houston into the sixth or deeper in all 10 of his starts following his first one of the year. And he gets a fine matchup to help continue that streak, as Tampa Bay strikes out once every three at-bats against left-handed pitching. That is rare.

As for Blake Snell, the recent former AL Cy Young Award winner is always going in the right direction — as one of the more talented southpaws in all of baseball.

Yes, Snell wasn’t at his sharpest his last time out. He allowed four runs in five frames in ALDS Game 1, but in his defense, any date with the New York Yankees is tough. And he was mostly victimized by the long ball, giving up three for the first time since Opening Day of the 2019 season. The Astros obvious wield a potent batting order but they’re not as homer-happy as the Yankees usually are.

That could mean we’ll see something closer to Snell’s first outing of this postseason, when he fired five-plus shutout innings, struck out nine and allowed just a single hit against the Toronto Blue Jays. I anticipate that form.

In his first taste of the playoffs last year, Snell took on this same Houston club and ultimately fared well. Remarkably, he hasn’t gone six innings in an outing yet this year, but I just can’t see that continuing. Such thinking points to quality work from the lefty, and thus, we can get something that reels in a lower final score.

Bet: UNDER 8.5 (-120)

MLB Leans - October 11


2020 MLB Over/Under Betting Record*

Regular season: “19-42-4,” -28.91 units

Postseason: 6-3, +1.95 units

Last Result: Yankees-Rays Under 7.5 (WIN)

*Each bet graded as if it were to win 1 unit (postseason 0.5 unit except first one)


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