Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners
First pitch: 10:10 p.m. ET
Probable pitchers: Jose Urquidy (0-1, 5.23 ERA) vs. Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 3.75 ERA)
This is quite a unique predicament the Astros find themselves in, suddenly having to compete without a handful of regulars in the lineup due to health and safety protocols. Specifically, a sizable part of the main core is on the injured list, that being Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman and Martin Maldonado.
And thus, we have a rare spot in which the normally-unforgiving Houston offense can somewhat be minimized. Not just because of those star bats being forced to the bench, but also given the starting pitcher set to oppose them in this series opener.
Normally, it would be a daunting task asking Kikuchi to handle the Astros, whom he’s 0-2 in five career starts against with a very unflattering 6.46 ERA and 1.69 WHIP. That, however, has generally been Houston at their explosive full strength.
Here, Kikuchi will avoid some of the usual mashers, and what’s left remaining is a collection of hitters that the southpaw has fared solid with. Houston’s four top active hitters at the moment — Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel and Kyle Tucker — are a combined 3-for-23 (.130) with no extra-base hits opposite Kikuchi pitching.
On top of everything, this is a new-and-improved version of the 29-year-old. After going 8-15 across his first two Major League seasons, Kikuchi has maybe never been better since arriving from overseas.
The seeds were planted during a strong spring training that saw him yield only one run in each of his three outings while punching out more than a batter per inning. Such a penchant for K’s has continued into the regular season, as Kikuchi has notched an impressive 16 strikeouts against only three walks so far.
To me, Kikuchi has clearly made strides that are worth noticing — and investing in — and if there’s going to be a particular date for him to succeed when seeing the Astros, then this will be that opportunity.
That would be great considering how trustworthy tonight’s counterpart normally is. Despite his current 5.23 ERA, take comfort in a wager banking on Urquidy.
The Mexican native has looked good to begin the campaign. While he yielded four runs his last time out, that also came in six effective innings and involved seven punch-outs compared to no free passes.
In his season debut before that, Urquidy shined by striking out five Oakland A’s in four-plus innings and limiting them to a pair of runs. He’s a quality arm in rhythm.
As I’ve highlighted before, Seattle carries a lineup that isn’t really intimidating, especially while Kyle Lewis (knee) is out. Watch Urquidy continue to provide steady work, and combined with another fine effort from Kikuchi, runs will be minimal.
MLB Expert Picks
UNDER 8 @ -110 (Click to bet)
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Friday's MLB Leans
Indians-Reds Under 9
Blue Jays-Royals Under 8
2021 MLB Over/Under Betting Record*: 7-8, -1.97 units
Yesterday’s Result: Padres-Pirates Under 8 (loss)
*Each bet graded as if it were to win 1 unit