The Houston Astros (88-72) took a big step toward punching their postseason ticket on Friday night, hanging on in the ninth inning for a win in the series opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks (84-76). Wild Card berths will be on the line in both directions as these two teams get back at it on Saturday, with first pitch from Chase Field set for 8:10 p.m. ET. It’s a star-studded matchup on the mound, as Houston sends Justin Verlander (12-8, 3.32 ERA) to the mound against D-backs righty Merrill Kelly (12-7, 3.38).
The Astros enter as -125 favorites on the moneyline at DraftKings Sportsbook, with Arizona at +105. The run total is set at 9.
Astros-Diamondbacks picks: Saturday, September 30
Out: RP Scott McGough (shoulder)
Justin Verlander vs. Merrill Kelly
This is why the Astros reacquired Verlander at the trade deadline, and despite a bumpy start to the month, the future Hall of Famer has started to look the part of late. Verlander blanked the Rangers over seven innings of one-run ball earlier this month, held the Orioles to three runs over six innings last week and then delivered a masterpiece (eight innings, three hits, one run) against the Mariners in Seattle a few days ago. At age 40, he’s certainly not as electric as he once was — but when he’s spotting his fastball at the top of the zone the way he was last time out, he still throws plenty hard enough.
Kelly has been a revelation for Arizona this year, one of the biggest reasons the D-backs find themselves on the doorstep of the postseason. The righty has allowed two or fewer runs in eight of his last 11 starts, including six innings of one-run ball against the Giants last week and five innings of two-run ball in a rain-shortened outing against the Yankees a few days ago. Kelly’s changeup has been doing work all season long, with a .161 BA against and a 32.1% whiff rate, and when he’s got that pitch dancing at the bottom of the zone, he’s been hard to figure out.
We saw a grand total of three runs scored on Friday night, and this pitching matchup is even better. Verlander thrives in these spots, and if his command was as good as it was in Seattle earlier this week, he should deliver another gem. That puts a ton of pressure on this Astros lineup to deliver us over a pretty hefty number, and I have faith in Kelly to at least keep Arizona competitive as he’s done all year long.
Pick: Under 9
Betting against Justin Verlander as the calendar flips to October? Couldn’t be me. These Astros aren’t what they once were, but they Verlander is very tough to beat in this spot and Houston’s offensive firepower has me leaning their way in a huge game tonight.
Pick: Astros -125