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Don't miss Matt Zylbert's Thursday pick for Astros vs. Yankees

MLB Picks

Houston Astros at New York Yankees

Over/Under: 7.5

First pitch: 1:05 p.m. ET

TV: MLB Network

Probable pitchers: Lance McCullers (2-1, 3.38 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (4-1, 1.43 ERA)

Houston Astros vs. New York Yankees

Shooting for a low-scoring ballgame with two potent lineups like the ones composed in Houston and New York is a daunting task. The right pitching matchup, however, can consistently neutralize those batters.

Enter today’s series finale from the Bronx. The world is already very much aware of Cole, arguably the best pitcher in the American League. He’s out to a sensational start, as usual, in his second year with the Yankees, carrying an ERA (1.43) and WHIP (0.72) that both rank in the top five amongst all qualified starters.

Cole has been suffocating in doing so, etching a video-game-like 62-3 K/BB ratio through six starts. I mean, that’s as dominant as someone can get — and there’s no reason to believe he’ll suddenly let up in an anticipated home assignment opposite his ex-teammates. This will be the first time Cole is seeing the Astros since departing for the Yanks after 2019.

Just like how this start will be notably more emotional than usual for Cole, the same can be applied to counterpart and former Houston rotation mate McCullers.

I like matchups like this because it’s sort of the “teacher vs. student” story. When both were on the same pitching staff, Cole was obviously the elder statesman along with Justin Verlander, while McCullers was in his mid-20’s, on the rise with promise.

McCullers is undoubtedly looking forward to this particular date, being able to face an elite pitcher he looked up to while playing alongside him. And that provides a boost to McCullers to be on his ‘A’ game.

As it is, the seventh-year righty is a confident individual. This is another tool I expect McCullers to have on display in order to contribute some real quality work — or at least survive — in such a known hostile environment like Yankee Stadium.

There was thought if McCullers would be the same pitcher upon his return from Tommy John surgery a season ago. He’s done more than enough to prove he is indeed back, especially if you saw him last year in his return campaign. McCullers registered a respectable 3.93 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 11 starts and held opponents to a measly .220 average. He also struck out more than a batter per inning, indicating he could maintain his typical high strikeout rate that he had pre-injury.

McCullers is continuing those tendencies this season, honing an impressive 10.13 K/9. One of the few potential issues in his outlook involves his home-and-road splits — being significantly better at Minute Maid Park throughout his career — but McCullers has yielded just one run total across two road outings up to this point.

Either way, he’ll at least be game, having intentions of outdueling the great Cole on his new turf. Starting pitching will emerge.

Expert MLB Picks

UNDER 7.5 @ -115 (Click to bet)

Thursday's MLB Leans

Blue Jays-Athletics Under 8.5

Braves-Nationals Over 9

2021 MLB Over/Under Betting Record*: 16-15-2, -0.9 unit

Yesterday’s Result: Mets-Cardinals Under 6 — Game 1 (WIN)

*Each bet graded as if it were to win 1 uni


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