Happy Shohei Ohtani day!
The Los Angeles Angels suck. Ohtani has to carry his team every single start, and has done a fine job, but not enough to hold the Angels off from their current skid.
The Houston Astros are good, if not a top-five team in baseball. They have a double-digit lead in the AL West and the lineup is pulling victory laps while doing it.
But can they force the same amount of hard-hit balls against Ohtani?
Let’s dive into the starting lineups, betting odds, and my prediction for this Thursday’s matchup.
Houston Astros vs Los Angeles Angels Odds
The Angels are laying juice here with Ohtani on the mound. But I’m starting to think betting Ohtani is becoming a public figurehead, and that might make him slightly overvalued in the markets.
Plus, Cristian Javier is good, and Houston has advantages in multiple other areas.
Let’s investigate this a little more.
Houston Astros Starting Lineup
C. Javier R
6-4 3.01 ERA
2B J. Altuve R
SS J. Pena R
3B A. Bregman R
RF K. Tucker L
1B Y. Gurriel R
DH A. Diaz R
CF J. Meyers R
LF C. McCormick R
C M. Maldonado R
Houston Astros vs Shohei Ohtani
Ohtani does what Ohtani does. He’s posted double-digit strikeouts in six starts this season, which is more than any pitcher in the league, and that includes his last three starts in succession.
Those last three starts include 34 strikeouts in 20 ⅔ innings without having allowed a single run. That includes less than 10 hits and only five walks.
The splitter continues to do more damage than any pitch in sports, forcing a Whiff rate north of 50%. Ohtani’s slider and four-seam do more damage thanks to the volume of pitches, but it’s not the same.
Either way, the three-pitch mix in concert does well.
But Ohtani has a challenge ahead of him. Over the last month, the Astros have posted an MLB-best 137 wRC+. The Yankees rank second with a 126 wRC+ during the time frame, meaning the Astros have been 11% better at producing runs than any other team in baseball.
They may have lost Yordan Alvarez for a few weeks, but that won’t stop this offense.
Los Angeles Angels Starting Lineup
S. Ohtani R
8-4 2.44 ERA
RF T. Ward R
CF M. Trout R
DH S. Ohtani L
1B J. Walsh L
SS L. Rengifo S
3B J. Villar S
C M. Stassi R
2B M. Stefanic R
LF B. Marsh L
Los Angeles Angels vs Cristian Javier
I have been very impressed with Javier. Although he isn’t technically “qualified”, Javier has the third-highest K-BB% (25.1%) of any pitcher in the American League. Interestingly, he trails only Shane McClanahan and his opponent Ohtani today.
It’s helped his 3.01 ERA, but his ability to avoid hard-hit balls (79th percentile) has fed into his 2.47 xERA. Javier has been one of the most efficient and effective pitchers in baseball this season.
What’s interesting is Javier’s surprisingly simple arsenal. He throws a four-seam fastball just over 60% of the time and a slider close to 30% of the time. The combo has forced nothing but Whiffs and weak contact, and Javier would actually project out as a great reliever.
But for now, the Astros are happy to have him be the linchpin of their rotation.
I’d expect a lot of strikeouts from Javier today. The Angels are striking out 30% of the time over the last month, which is over 4% more than the next team on that infamous list. The Angels combine that with the lowest wRC+ during the stretch (70).
Mike Trout and Ohtani can do all they want, but they can’t seem to pull this roster out of poverty.
Houston Astros vs Los Angeles Angels Pick & Prediction
My picks: Houston Astros ML (+122 at FanDuel Sportsbook)
This is a mispriced line. Ohtani is one of the best pitchers in baseball, but he’s going up against the best lineups in the league and a high-upside pitcher with a much-better support system around him.
For example, the Astros lead MLB in reliever xFIP over the last month (3.07) while the Angels rank 18th.
There is a reason the Angels are 1-8 this month while the Astros are 24-11 in their last 35.
While it’s tough to fade Ohtani, we can often find value in fading top-tier pitchers because the public loves to back them. The Astros win this game more than the +122 line implies.
I’ll back the Astros at +115 or better.