Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez
Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez throws against the Boston Red Sox during the seventh inning in Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)


Mike Shara

Atlanta Braves at Houston Astros, Minute Maid Park 8:09 pm
Charlie Morton (14-6 3.34) vs. Framber Valdez (11-6, 3.14)
MONEYLINE: Houston -136 on FanDuel
SPREAD:  Atlanta +1.5 (-170) on DraftKings
OVER/UNDER: 8.5 (over -115) on BetMGM

In a matchup that seemed impossible to imagine less than a week ago, the Astros and Braves are meeting up tonight in the World Series for the first time. Last week, both teams’ pitching staffs looked completely exhausted and significantly short to imagine them coming back to defeat Boston or L.A. The Dodgers and Red Sox’ offense also looked to be putting on batting practice exhibitions in Games 2 and 3, leaving their opponents’ managers scratching their heads, hoping for a solution to fall from the sky.

For Houston, that solution was Framber Valdez. On Wednesday he made the most important start of his career and turned it into also the best start of his career. Against a smokin’ hot Sox lineup (remember Kike Hernadez couldn’t get out for like a week straight there?), he threw 8 innings, allowing just three hits, one run and one walk – and the 27-year-old did it on the mound in Fenway Park – possibly the most hostile opponents’ pitching venue in the postseason, officially making himself the Astros’ big game pitcher in the absence of injured ace Lance McCullers Jr. He may end up making three starts in this World Series, depending on how long it goes.

The Braves will counter with a firmly established Big Game pitcher in Charlie Morton. In his career, he has a 7-4 record with a 3.35 ERA in postseason appearances. While pitching for the Rays in 2020, he manhandled this Houston lineup, going 2-0 with an 0.00 ERA in 10.2 innings during the ALCS, making himself a key factor in Tampa advancing to that year’s World Series. Now he is back again, and I doubt there’s anyone manager Brian Snitker or Atlanta fans would rather have on the bump than him. He will not be daunted by the raucous crowd at the juice box.

Both team’s offenses are led by one player who has been unconscious, both of whom were named MVP of their respective League Championship Series. Houston’s Yordan Alvarez and Atlanta’s Eddie Rosario are getting the lion’s share of the scouting report this week and with good reason. Alvarez batted an insane .522/.538/.870 against Boston’s best pitchers and Rosario went out of his mind to the tune of .560/.607/1.040 line, foiling nearly every attempt the Dodgers made to get him out. I think this series gets decided by the other guys in each lineup, though, as history has shown, it is almost impossible to stay that hot in the playoffs for weeks at a time.

Even though Charlie Morton is a proven big game pitcher and by far the more experienced starter tonight, I’m still picking the Astros. Valdez was absolutely great last time out and I think he has figured out whatever was troubling him earlier in the playoffs. The Astros’ lineup has had some success against Morton in the past (other than the 2020 ALCS, obviously). Look for Houston catcher Martin Maldonado to have some big at-bats tonight – he, Altuve and Yuli Gurriel have had some success in their career vs. Morton. On the other hand, almost no one on the Braves has seen Valdez at all in their careers and the way he’s pitching right now, that seems like a big advantage to have in a home game. I still think runs are at a premium despite the cozy dimensions at Minute Maid Park and players tend to be a bit tight in Game Ones of a World Series, so I’m taking the ASTROS in a close, low-scoring game (maybe Atlanta covers the spread) and I’m also taking the UNDER for this one.

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