AL West gets midseason showdown

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It appears we were all a little too early celebrating the apparent demise of the Houston Astros. After a surprising 7-10 start, the Astros rolled off eight consecutive wins and are back in business.

The stained franchise still has more work to do, however, if they want to catch the rival Oakland Athletics at the top of the American League West division. As of Tuesday, the A’s were tied for the best record in the AL, being 20-10 halfway through.

So, it’s safe to say Minute Maid Park will be hosting one of the biggest high-profile series of the weekend, with implications for the No. 1 seed, too. Let’s see how the probable pitching matchups shake out.

Friday

Frankie Montas vs. Brandon Bielak: Since winning AL Player of the Week honors a few weeks ago, Montas hasn’t looked quite right. Of course, he was scratched from an outing preceding his last couple of starts due to lower back tightness, which probably has played a role in the burly Dominican right-hander’s recent struggles. In fact, he’s allowed a woeful 13 runs across his last 6.1 frames.

Bielak, meanwhile, may be going in that same direction. The 24-year-old rookie was promising in his first few starts before running into the speed bump that is the San Diego Padres, who decked Bielak for a whopping seven runs in less than two innings. Now he must contend with a tough A’s lineup and will experience more growing pains in just his fifth career start. OVER

Saturday

Jesus Luzardo vs. Zack Greinke: If you haven’t seen Luzardo in action yet, you’re missing out. Baby Jesus has arrived and is looking like the talented prospect he was hyped as. The southpaw has yielded more than three runs only once in his five outings and is also maintaining his rep as a strikeout artist from the minor leagues. Luzardo punched out seven in each of his prior two starts.

Then there’s someone you’ve definitely seen, Greinke, one of baseball’s oldest starting pitchers. Yet he still continues to be notably effective, hence why he owns a 2.29 ERA through six assignments.

Since joining the Astros, Greinke has amassed 19 innings of one-run ball vs. the A’s in three outings and I’d look for similar work. UNDER

Sunday

Sean Manaea vs. Framber Valdez: Following a troublesome start to the campaign, Manaea appears to have turned things around. The left-hander finally completed five innings in a start, doing so in consecutive outings entering this assignment. At the same time, he’s still carrying a 6.39 ERA and 1.46 WHIP — and now must deal with what is perennially one of baseball’s best offenses against left-handed pitching.

On the other side of this matchup is Valdez, who certainly has to be riding high after he punched out a career-high 11 batters in his most recent turn. Not only that, he’s coming off his first career pair of back-to-back starts in which he logged at least seven innings each time out. Clearly, Valdez is trending up but it may not be enough to keep this game below the total. OVER

Last week: 1-0

Season: 3-1

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