Seattle Mariners vs. Houston Astros Series Preview (7/19-7/21)

USA TODAY Sports

Baseball's back!

Date Time Venue Probable Pitchers
7/19 5:10 pm Minute Maid Park
Joe Saunders vs. Bud Norris
7/20 4:10 pm
Minute Maid Park Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Erik Bedard
7/21
1:10 pm Minute Maid Park Felix Hernandez vs. Jordan Lyles

Today there will be a real life baseball game featuring the Seattle Mariners! The past four days have been insufferable, and this break always leads me to wonder how we make it through the off-season. Now that the hiatus is over, the Mariners get to play three games against the Houston Astros, attempting to keep their red-hot offense rolling, or something.

Before we get into this, I just want to take a second to thank everyone that's been a part of this community during this post-Jeff and subsequent post-Jon transition. I hope it was as smooth as I could make it, and while things are undoubtedly different now, we're settling in. I'm lucky to have this talented group of writers. To all of you who make LL what it is and continue supporting this second version of it - thank you.

I also want to add that my friend Riley Breckenridge (appeared on Podcast Episode 2) helped form the baseball-themed grindcore band Puig Destroyer with some other musicians, and today their EP is streaming at the previously linked page. It has kind of caught fire and gotten some pub on Grantland and Yasiel Puig himself heard it a few weeks ago at the MLB Fan Cave. "That's very good." Even if it's not your thing let's all just take a moment to appreciate there's a band writing songs like "Stop Fucking Bunting" and "Dad Hat."

Getting back on topic, it's a borderline crime that there's no day baseball across MLB after we've been forced to wait so long for games, but the Mariners will play at 5:10 tonight, which is close enough I guess. Joe Saunders is exactly who you wanted to see, correct? Correct. The post AS game rotation is always a little weird, as now Iwakuma will lead Felix for the foreseeable future. I know that it doesn't really matter, but the whole #1/#2 thing still tugs tightly in my mind, and the flip-flop is playing a meaningless trick on my meandering mind. It doesn't matter. I still don't like it.

The Astros haven't announced their starting rotation after Bud Norris, who's a strong candidate to be dealt after this start. Norris' K rate is still way down, but he's having the best year of his career, currently at 2.1 fWAR. His FIP is at a career low 3.55, but his xFIP is at a career high 4.35. I mentioned this is the last preview, but it's still weird. That 0.63 HR/9 is begging to be busted up, and how the Mariners stroll in with the most home runs in baseball since June 20th. Arbitrary end points for days.

The most notable piece of Astros news lately was their extension of Jose Altuve, which generated a lot of praise. It's four years/$12.5 million with two additional team options tacked on for $6 mill and $6.5 mill each.

A lot of people love Jose Altuve. He's fun to watch, being 5 foot nothing and waving that comically over-sized bat around, reaching pitches he shouldn't be able to. The Astros have nothing to build around. Why not make Altuve a guaranteed part of the core for the next four seasons and maybe longer? Because Altuve really isn't very good.

Altuve is still just 23 so the book hasn't been shut on him yet, but early returns aren't encouraging. He's already worse than he was last season. His walks are down and his strikeouts are up, and his power's down too. He's a terrible fielder, DRS had him at -18 last season and UZR pegged him for -13.4, and the numbers are bad this year too (-3 and -3.4, respectively). After a 1.6 fWAR last season, Altuve is on pace for less than a win in 2013. Is this a player worth giving guaranteed money to? Age aside, the downward trend isn't exactly encouraging.

The saving grace of the Altuve contract is how cheap it is. It doesn't prohibit the Astros from replacing him and making Altuve a bench player, and the options can be denied. Really, there's nothing wrong with it, other than taking a risk the Astros didn't need to take.

Welcome back, baseball.

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