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Athletics vs. Astros Friday MLB probable pitchers, odds: Justin Verlander returns with AL Cy Young race nearly dead heat

AL Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander returns from injury tonight for Houston.
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While the National League Cy Young race appears over from a betting perspective with Miami's Sandy Alcantara set to win, the AL odds show nearly a dead heat between the Chicago White Sox's Dylan Cease (+150) and Houston's Justin Verlander (-130), who will take the mound Friday night for the first time since Aug. 28 after missing time with a calf injury. The Astros are massive favorites at Caesars against the visiting Oakland A's.

Verlander actually fell behind Cease on the odds board when Cease (14-7, 2.16 ERA, 214 Ks) threw six shutout innings in a win at Oakland on Sept. 8 – that followed a near no-hitter and complete-game shutout in the start previous for the 26-year-old. However, Cease fell back into second on Wednesday when he allowed three runs and six hits at home in a loss to the worst road team in the majors, the Colorado Rockies. If the White Sox miss the playoffs by a game, remember that.

The 39-year-old Verlander (16-3, 1.84 ERA, 154 Ks) injured his right calf while going to cover first base during a rundown in the third inning against the Orioles on Aug. 28. Houston obviously dodged a major bullet in that it wasn't more serious, and in a way it might not have been the worst thing for Verlander to miss a few starts to keep his innings down after making just one start the previous two seasons combined due to Tommy John surgery.

Verlander probably isn't going to lead the majors in wins now as he has fallen two behind Atlanta's Kyle Wright, who likely has the only realistic chance to be the majors' lone 20-game winner. Verlander does lead MLB in ERA and WHIP (0.86). He is 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA in two starts this year against the A's, holding the majors' worst-hitting team to a .178 average.

Houston probably can still limit his innings the rest of the way as the Astros are near-locks to finish with the AL's best record regardless. The White Sox are playing for their postseason lives the rest of the way and will need to pitch Cease as much as possible. He is scheduled to open a big home series vs. Cleveland on Sept. 20.

Both MVP races are over as well with the Yankees' Aaron Judge a -2500 favorite in the AL and the Cardinals' Paul Goldschmidt at -2000 in the NL. 

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