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Astros Against the Wall Heading into Game 5

Well, the Atlanta Braves have (almost) done it. Behind stellar starting pitching, impeccable fielding, and some clutch hitting from relatively unlikely sources, the Braves can clinch their first World Series championship since 1995 with a win over the Houston Astros in Sunday’s Game 5 at home in front of their fans.

Framber Valdez will start for the Astros while the Braves will use another bullpen game, likely with Drew Smyly being asked to shoulder a good chunk of the innings load.

Guillermo Heredia and team Houston Astros vs Atlanta Braves Picks
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images/AFP

Atlanta staged a comeback in Saturday’s Game 4, as the Braves were down 2-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. Eddie Rosario doubled off Brooks Raley and was driven in a few batters later by Austin Riley, who laced what should have been a single to left field but Yordan Álvarez threw home instead of to third base, where he could have thrown out Freddie Freeman before Rosario scored. But, he didn’t and the Braves got on the board.

Then, in the seventh inning, Dusty Baker made the curious decision to use Cristian Javier with a one-run lead instead of Ryan Pressly or Kendall Graveman. That choice backfired almost immediately, as Dansby Swanson and Jorge Soler ripped back-to-back home runs to give the Braves a 3-2 lead. Luke Jackson and Will Smith threw perfect innings in the eighth and ninth to secure the win and give Atlanta a commanding series lead with the chance to clinch in Game 5.

First pitch from Truist Park is at 8:15 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Astros slight -115 moneyline favorites. The Braves are  +105 moneyline underdogs. Current MLB lines have the over/under at 8½ runs.

Valdez Will Regain Form

The Astros are hoping Valdez recovers in Game 5 after his rough Game 1 showing in the same way he did in the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox. In that series, Valdez also was hit hard in his Game 1 start only to bounce back and throw an eight-inning gem in a Game 5 win.

In this series, Valdez was ambushed by the Braves in the opening game, allowing eight hits and five runs in two innings. He wasn’t sharp at all but also wasn’t helped by some questionable infield defense behind him. For someone who relies on getting ground balls, Valdez needs to keep the ball down and have his infielders play crisp defense. Usually, he is able to get both since the Astros have been one of baseball’s best defensive teams. Look for him to pitch a lot better on Sunday and for Houston to be much sharper with elimination on the line.

It’s also interesting to note that three of Valdez’s four playoff starts this season have been at Minute Maid Park, and all of those starts were ones in which he struggled mightily. His Game 5 ALCS masterpiece was at Fenway Park and all four starts he made in the 2020 playoffs — in which he was wonderful — were also on the road. So, it’s possible his stuff just doesn’t play as well in Houston, which is backed up by his home/road splits from the 2021 regular season.

If you’re betting online, go with Valdez. He won’t pitch as poorly as he did in Game 1 and will get defensive help too. It also can’t hurt that he’ll be pitching in Atlanta, as there could be something to his pronounced playoff home issues.

Braves Can’t Keep This Up

It’s frankly remarkable how well Atlanta has pitched in this series, especially the Braves’ relievers. Their bullpen was rather mediocre during the regular season but has turned into a dominant force in the playoffs, almost single-handedly keeping the Astros at bay after shutting down the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers.

With the heavy workload it has been asked to take on due to the Charlie Morton injury, it just feels like fatigue should set in at some point. The good thing for Brian Snitkner is that he was able to avoid using Smyly, A.J. Minter, and Jesse Chavez in Game 4 so all three of those guys will be rested and likely will hear their name called at some point.

However, key trusted arms Tyler Matzek, Luke Jackson, and Will Smith all worked on Friday and Saturday and have seemingly pitched in almost every Braves playoff game, which means Snitker might try to avoid going to them if possible. Still, though, when clinching a World Series is on the line, a reliever working three days in a row doesn’t phase a manager as much as it would in the ALDS or ALCS. It’s still something to consider and, eventually, the chickens will come home to roost and the Astros will hit the Braves’ relievers. The question is if Houston will run out of time in this series before that happens.

With that said, as far as MLB picks go, you should back the Astros. They know they don’t have any cushion in this series and they need to figure things out now or they’ll be going home. The bats will get going. The MLB playoff odds are still really underrating Houston’s ability, even with how poorly they’ve hit thus far. That makes for a good betting opportunity.

Pick: Houston Astros -1½ runs (+140)

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