The Houston Astros take on the Minnesota Twins in the opener of their three-game series on Friday night from Target Field in Minnesota. The two teams are yet to meet this year but did face off twice last year in the ALWS when Houston went on the road and made quick work of the AL Central champions. This year has been quite different for Minnesota, as they find themselves in last place in the division and are coming off of a series loss to the Yankees. Houston on the other hand comes in just a game back in the AL West but is 8-2 in their last ten games and three straight series wins against the Blue Jays and twice against the Red Sox. Can Houston keep up their current run of form or will the Twins find a rare win against one of baseball's elite teams?
Astros Rolling AlongHouston would love to play the Red Sox every series based on how they've done the last few weeks against them, but will gladly take the last place Twins instead over the weekend. Houston has quietly become one of the hottest teams in baseball and a weekend set against an injury-riddled Minnesota team is perfect for them to continue to keep pace with or surpass the Athletics. Houston has missed the injury bug for the most part with their position players, with only Aledmys Diaz and Jason Castro appearing on the 10-Day IL and are expecting to be out for this weekend's slate of games. The Astros are first in the league in runs per game, batting average, and hits per game, which has allowed their offense to lead the way over their current streak of strong play.
Houston has established itself as having one of the deepest offenses in baseball, which has only become stronger and stronger as players have returned from the IL. Yuli Gurriel has been the biggest surprise though, leading the team in four of five major offensive categories. He leads in batting average (.335), RBI (43), OBP (.406), and hits (69), while Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker are tied for the lead in home runs, with 11. Some of the more traditional big names on the roster, like Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman, are starting to come into their own too, with Altuve hitting .293 with ten home runs, and Bregman hitting .295. Over the last week, Gurriel is hitting an absurd .609, while Correa has three home runs, and Altuve has added two of his own, as they very quickly become the team that feared opponents the last few seasons.
According to MLB.com, Jose Urquidy will get the start for the Astros on Friday night to set the tone against the Twins. Urquidy comes in at 4-3 with a 3.76 ERA but has been better than his record indicates for much of the year so far. He hasn't missed a beat since going 1-1 with a 2.73 ERA in five starts last year and has had much better control of his command while improving his strikeout rate as well. Urquidy is coming off a brutal last start though, allowing six runs in only 4.1 innings in his last start, and will need to revert back to his mid-April form to find the win on the road. He did make one appearance against the Twins in last year's postseason though, allowing only a run and two hits in 4.1 innings and should have some confidence from that appearance.
Twins Navigating InjuriesMinnesota seems quite a bit different than the team that dropped both playoff games to Houston last year and going through most of the season in last place hasn't done much to improve their confidence. The biggest thing beating the Twins right now beyond themselves is the injuries they continue to battle. Heading into the series with Houston, the Twins are likely to be without five starting position players, potentially five of the top six hitters in their order expected to miss games this weekend. The biggest loss is Byron Buxton, but add in Nelson Cruz, Mitch Garver, Max Kepler, and Rob Refsnyder, that leaves the lineup pretty bare, especially given how strong Houston's offense has been.
The Twins are in a difficult place given their best overall player in Buxton, and best power-hitting in Cruz, both are likely out for this series. Cruz leads the team with a .279 batting average and an OBP of .353 to go along with 50 hits, while Buxton was hitting .370 with nine home runs in just 92 at-bats. Miguel Sano is one player that the team is looking to have step up in their place, leading the team with 12 home runs and 30 RBI. Over the last week though, Sano isn't the only one stepping up their game, with Jorge Polanco hitting a team-best .346 with three home runs, while Josh Donaldson has been a welcome addition to the lineup as well. Right now the Twins will need to tread water with the guys they have and try to make it work as they start a series against another set of strong opponents.
According to MLB.com, Matt Shoemaker is going to get the ball on Friday for the Twins. He's had a rough go of it so far this season and won't be happy to see the Astros coming to town. In 11 starts on the year so far, he's 2-7 with a 7.28 ERA, with those seven losses being a league-worst tally. For Shoemaker, he's seen his WHIP and BB9 balloon, while his strikeout numbers have taken a serious dive. SHoemaker is coming off the worst start of his season and the Astros will be looking to capitalize. Last time out against the Royals, Shoemaker got through one out, allowing eight earned runs on six hits, and the Twins will be praying that his confidence isn't shaken coming into Friday night against an elite offense.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Houston comes into Minnesota coming off a great series in back-to-back weeks against the Red Sox and has been one of the most difficult teams to beat of late. The pitching matchup is a huge advantage to the Astros, as Urquidy has been one of the aces over the last few years and was exceptional his last time out against Minnesota's in last year's playoffs and will have that confidence to carry over into Friday night. For Shoemaker and Minnesota, he's been getting rocked of late and as opposed to Urquidy, probably has his confidence at a season-low right now. The Houston lineup is filled with offensive balance and it'll be difficult for an injury-riddled Minnesota lineup to keep pace on Friday night, especially without their top bats. Expect Urquidy to make easy work of the Twins' makeshift lineup and for Houston to grab a win in the series opener.
Full-Game Total Pick
With Shoemaker on the mound, the Astros have a good chance at hitting the over on their own, especially with their entire lineup essentially back in the fold to be in the lineup. Altuve is starting to heat up, Correa's power numbers over the last week have been impressive, and then there's still Gurriel, who has been the leader all season long on the offensive end and is hitting over .600 the last week. The Astros will definitely put up runs and even just a few productive innings from Minnesota will see the over hit easily. Additionally, according to covers.com, for Houston, the over is 6-1 in their last seven series openers. For Minnesota, the over is 4-0 in their last four games against AL West opponents, is 6-1 in their last seven home games against a team with a winning record, and is 5-1 in their last six Friday games.