What’s the best year in Houston sports history? It is hard to say from afar. The former Oilers never even reached a Super Bowl, although they did win two AFL titles in the early 1960s. The current Texans have reached the playoffs four of the past six years but have yet to get past the divisional round. The Astros have reached one World Series in franchise history, losing a sweep to the White Sox in 2005. The Hakeem Olajuwon-led Rockets won back-to-back NBA titles in 1994-95 but those are clearly tainted because Michael Jordan was off playing baseball those years.
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Perhaps we will look back to this week as the start of the greatest sports year in that city’s history. The Texans could easily win the AFC South again and maybe Deshaun Watson is amazing and leads the team to the Super Bowl (doubtful). The Astros are clearly the best team in the American League and +500 at BetOnline to win their first World Series. And now the Rockets have the best backcourt in the NBA in trading for Chris Paul on Wednesday to play alongside James Harden. I frankly think Paul is a bit overrated, as there’s a reason he has never played in a conference finals, but he’s a great player. The trade generally shifted the Rockets from around +2800 at sportsbooks to win the 2018 NBA title to +1500. Sorry, they still aren’t getting passed the Warriors, though. As for L.A.’s sports year? It is Dodgers or bust.
Yankees at Astros (-150, 8.5)
This is the series of the weekend and a potential ALDS or ALCS preview. I don’t say wild-card preview because Houston is already nearly a lock to win the AL West. As expected, the Yankees have put both second baseman Starlin Castro and DH Matt Holliday on the DL. Both are expected to miss the minimum 10 days. Miguel Andujar was called up from Triple-A and could see regular starts in the DH spot. New York’s Michael Pineda (7-4, 4.12) comes off his worst outing of the year, giving up seven runs and three homers over four innings vs. Texas. He lost to Houston on April 11 (6.2 IP, 3 ER). Carlos Correa is 6-for-10 with three homers off him. Houston’s Lance McCullers Jr. (7-1, 2.53) came off the DL and beat Seattle on Saturday with one run allowed over five. He won at Yankee Stadium on May 12 (6 IP, 0 ER).
Key trends: The Yankees are 11-5 in their past 16 in Houston. They are 0-6 in their past six road games vs. teams with a winning home record. The “over/under” is 6-2 in New York’s past eight series openers.
Early lean: Astros and under.
Giants at Pirates (-120, 8)
There will be a ton of scouts at this game because the Giants seem sure to trade Johnny Cueto, who already has said he will opt out of his contract after this season, and the Pirates are open to dealing young ace Gerrit Cole. He would cost a lot more in prospects than Cueto would. Cueto (5-7, 4.20) is starting to pitch better and surrendered one run and five hits over seven innings Saturday vs. the Mets in a no-decision. The Pirates’ Josh Harrison is 7-for-23 career against Cueto with four extra-base hits. Cole (6-6, 4.11) is also trending up, allowing one earned run in each of his past three starts, all wins. He owns a 1.59 ERA in four career starts against the Giants. Brandon Belt is 3-for-12 with a dinger against Cole.
Key trends: The Giants are 0-4 in Cueto’s past four vs. teams with a losing record. The Pirates are 5-1 in Cole’s past six at home. The under is 5-1 in those six.
Early lean: Pirates and under.
Red Sox at Blue Jays (-137, 10)
I was surprised that it took so long for a team to take a flier on Doug Fister this season. The Angels a few weeks back, opted out of that after three Triple-A starts and was claimed off waivers by Boston had signed him to a minor-league contract. Just three years ago, Fister was 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA with Washington. Last year, he won 12 games with Houston. Fister, 33, made his Red Sox debut Sunday vs. the Angels and had a quality outing (6 IP, 3 ER) but took the loss. Boston will take those numbers every start. Toronto’s Kendrys Morales is 7-for-22 career off him with three homers. The Jays could be open to trading free-agent-to-be Marco Estrada (4-6, 4.89). He had been terrible in June but was solid last time out in Kansas City, allowing three runs over seven. Estrada still has a 10.03 ERA this month. Estrada took a no-decision on April 20 vs. Boston (6 IP, 0 ER). Dustin Pedroia is a career .417 hitter off him in 24 at-bats.
Key trends: The Jays are 1-4 in Estrada’s past five vs. Boston. The under is 5-1 in his previous six against the Red Sox.
Early lean: Red Sox and over.
Cubs at Reds (+110, 9.5)
It’s pretty clear that the Cubs don’t have a clear-cut leader in the locker room this year like they did in 2016 with the now-retired David Ross. I believe that is partly why the Cubs designated backup catcher Miguel Montero for assignment after he tore into pitcher Jake Arrieta’s slow delivery Tuesday night that led to Washington stealing seven bases. Was Montero right? Honestly, yes. But you can’t rip a guy like that in the media. The Cubs have called up Triple-A catcher Victor Caratini to replace Montero, but they will now be in the market for a veteran to back up Wilson Contreras. Kyle Schwarber won’t be that No. 2 guy. Kris Bryant sprained his ankle on Wednesday and probably has to sit at least a couple of games. Cubs lefty Mike Montgomery (1-4, 2.50) lost in Miami on Sunday but tied his season high with six innings. He has allowed three runs in 2.2 innings vs. the Reds in 2017. Adam Duvall is 2-for-2 off him with an RBI. Cincinnati’s Scott Feldman (6-5, 4.07) has allowed two earned in back-to-back starts. Chicago ripped him on May 17 (2.2 IP, 7 R).
Key trends: The Reds are 1-4 in Feldman’s past five vs. the NL Central. The over is 4-1 in those five. The Cubs are 19-7 in their past 26 in Cincinnati.
Early lean: Cubs and over.
Rockies at Diamondbacks (-144, 9.5)
Rookie pitchers have carried Colorado this season, but the Rox are starting to fade because those guys generally are a bit as well. Help is on the way Friday as projected No. 1 starter Jon Gray makes his return from the disabled list. Gray (0-0, 4.38), who set a Rockies rookie record with 185 strikeouts last season and started this year's season opener, hasn't pitched since suffering a navicular stress fracture of his left foot on April 13. He didn’t face Arizona in his three starts before going down. Chris Owings is 4-for-6 against him with two RBIs. Arizona lefty Robbie Ray (8-3, 2.87) deserves to be an All-Star, as he hasn’t lost since May 9. Ray did lose his one 2017 start vs. Colorado on April 28 (6.2 IP, 3 ER). Charlie Blackmon murders him, going 12-for-23 with two homers and seven RBIs.
Key trends: The Rockies are 2-9 in Gray’s past 11 road starts vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 4-1 in his past seven vs. the NL West. The over is 5-2 in Arizona’s previous seven series openers.
Early lean: Diamondbacks, a Blackmon hitting prop and under.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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