Sunday's MLB Opener
March 31, 2013
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TEXAS RANGERS at HOUSTON ASTROS
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Texas -160 & 8.5 flat
The 2013 MLB season opens on Sunday night when the Rangers visit an Astros team playing its first-ever game as an American League team.
Although Texas won 93 games last season and made the playoffs, the club finished 2-8 in its final 10 games, relinquishing the division crown to Oakland before falling 5-1 at home to Baltimore in the one-game Wild Card playoff. Houston, which had the worst record in baseball last year at 55-107, was re-aligned from the National League Central Division to the American League West Division this season.
The Rangers' offense was outstanding last season, leading the majors in runs (808), while ranking second in slugging (.446 SLG), third in batting average (.273 BA) and fourth in on-base percentage (.334 OBP). However, they lost two sluggers this offseason in OF Josh Hamilton (.285 BA, 43 HR, 128 RBI in 2012) and C Mike Napoli (24 HR, 56 RBI in 108 games last year), while saying good-bye to 3B Michael Young (.277 BA, 8 HR, 67 RBI in 2012) who had played the past 13 seasons in Texas. The team signed veterans C A.J. Pierzynski (27 HR, 77 RBI with White Sox in 2012) and 1B Lance Berkman (.296 BA, 360 HR in career) to help make up for these losses. Texas will also count on 25-year-old OF Leonys Martin (.204 BA in 54 career MLB at-bats), to thrive with regular playing time as Hamilton's replacement in center field.
Texas will open the 2013 campaign with left-hander Matt Harrison, who finished last season 18-11 with a 3.29 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, his best career numbers in all categories. The Rangers were 20-12 (63%) in his starts last year, including 11-7 (61%) on the road, where the southpaw went 10-7 with a 3.10 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. He has faced the Astros just four times in his career, with two starts and two relief appearances. Although he threw three shutout innings in the two relief appearances, he has been hit hard in the two starts, giving up eight runs on 13 hits with 5 BB and 5 K's in 11 innings of work. Harrison has had a tendency to get off to slow starts to the season, carrying a 4.89 ERA in 17 starts in March/April, marking his highest ERA of any month in his career.
Houston's offensive numbers were just horrible in 2012. The team scored the fewest runs in baseball (583), had the 2nd-worst batting average (.236) and slugging percentage (.371), while placing 3rd-to-last in on-base percentage (.302). The Astros made several personnel changes in the offseason, with the most crucial being the hiring of new skipper Bo Porter who will be making his managerial debut on Sunday. The team also brought in sluggers LF Chris Carter (16 HR in 218 AB with Oakland in 2012) and 1B Carlos Pena (19 HR, 77 RBI with Rays last year) to provide some much needed pop. Houston also replaced Jed Lowrie (.244 BA, 16 HR, 42 RBI in 2012) at shortstop with light-hitting, slick-fielding Ronny Cedeno (.290 career OBP). The Astros also grabbed RP Jose Veras (4.01 ERA, 5 saves in career) from Milwaukee to serve as the team's closer.
The Astros will open their American League tenure with right-hander Bud Norris, whose ERA was nearly one run higher (4.65) in 2012 than it was the previous year (3.77). Norris finished last season with a 7-13 record and 1.37 WHIP, but had a typically high strikeout rate (8.8 K's/9) with 165 whiffs in 168.1 innings. Although Houston was just 11-18 (38%) in his 29 starts last year, the team was 7-4 (64%) when Norris took the mound at Minute Maid Park. That's because Norris was outstanding in his home park in 2012, going 4-1 with a 1.71 ERA, .199 opponents' BA and 0.96 WHIP in 11 starts in Houston. He has never faced the Rangers in his four-year career, but has struggled badly against American League hitters in three career starts against them, posting a 6.19 ERA and 1.63 WHIP in those contests.