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Series Preview: Mariners (78-64) vs. Astros (63-80)

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The Mariners begin a three-game series against the Houston Astros to start the second-to-last homestand of the year.

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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Monday, September 8

7:10pm

Astros

RHP Brad Peacock

Mariners

RHP Felix Hernandez

Tuesday, September 9

7:10pm

Astros

RHP Collin McHugh

Mariners

LHP Roenis Elias

Wednesday, September 10

7:10pm

Astros

RHP Nick Tropeano

Mariners

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

Mariners

Astros

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

92 (12th in AL)

97 (9th in AL)

ASTROS

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

19.8 (4th)

-60.6 (14th)

MARINERS

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

102 (8th)

102 (9th)

MARINERS

Bullpen (FIP-)

83 (1st)

105 (13th)

MARINERS

The Mariners return home for their second-to-last homestand of the year. First up are the Houston Astros before the last scheduled off day of the season with the Athletics coming to town this weekend. FanGraphs has the Mariners' playoff odds at 51.9% but their projection system has them playing .500 ball over their remaining twenty games. The Mariners' loss yesterday combined with the Tigers' win cost us 13.5 points from our playoff odds. Every game becomes more critical as the calendar relentlessly marches on towards October.

This year has gone pretty much as expected for the Astros. In their second year in the AL West and their third year of their massive rebuilding project, the Astros are on pace to improve their record by 20 wins. They have graduated a number of their top prospects this year -- George Springer, Jon Singleton, and Mike Foltynewicz have all made their debuts this year. They're certainly improving but it remains to be seen if they're going to be able to put it all together before ownership loses their patience.

The Astros:

The Astros are in position to play the spoiler in both the AL West race and the Wild Card race. They've been playing better since the beginning of August - they're four games over .500 and have a +15 run differential since then. Their next four opponents are the Mariners, the Angels, the Indians, and the Mariners again. They've already contributed to the race by sweeping the Angels in a two-game series to start September and by taking two of three against the Athletics over the weekend.

Key Players

2B Jose Altuve - Once notable because of his small stature, Jose Altuve has broken out this year to post an excellent 4.4 WAR this year, good for fourth among AL second basemen. He's been able to accomplish this after retooling his swing mechanics over the winter which has allowed him to cover more of the plate leading to a contact rate that is higher than ever -- particularly on pitches outside of the zone. He's also been able to add a ton of value with his legs, swiping 51 bases with an 88% success rate. All of his value comes on the offensive side as the advanced fielding metrics have graded him out decidedly below average (UZR thinks he's the worst in the AL this year).

DH Chris Carter - Chris Carter is a powerful man. He's second in the AL with 36 home runs and he's been on fire since the All-Star Break - his wRC+ since then is a robust 171. He started off the year pretty slowly but he made some adjustments with his swing which has allowed him to make contact more often (64% 1st half contact rate, 67% 2nd half contact rate; 41% 1st half O-contact rate, 46% 2nd half O-contact rate). His walk rate is down this year but he's more than made up for it with his extreme power.

CF Dexter Fowler - Dexter Fowler joined the Astros this year after a trade from the Colorado Rockies. Many questioned whether or not Fowler would be able to maintain his offensive numbers outside of the friendly confines of Coors Field. I'd say he's emphatically answered, "Yes." He's been 25% better than the average batter this year and most of that value has come from his ability to get on base. His 14% walk rate ranks fifth in the AL and he's been able to prove that his high batting average on balls in play from his days in Colorado wasn't a product of the park he was playing in (his .341 BABIP is right in line with his career mark of .347).

Probable Pitchers

RHP Brad Peacock

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

118 2/3

19.8%

11.8%

11.5%

37.3%

5.01

4.88

Pitches

Four-seam

Slider

Knuckle Curve

Changeup

92.2 mph;

56.9%

83.1 mph;

15.7%

76.4 mph;

18.3%

80.7 mph;

8.2%

Brad Peacock has filled out the back-end of the Astros' rotation for the last two years. A former number one prospect with the Nationals, Peacock has never really put it all together. He's been able to strike out a decent number of batters in his career but his lack of control has been his undoing. His batted ball profile is pretty fly ball heavy and that's driven up his home run rate. His fastball is decidedly below average but his slider and curveball are both decent offerings. He'll use them to generate whiffs against both righties and lefties which has allowed him to avoid a significant platoon split.

RHP Collin McHugh

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

134

25.7%

7.3%

9.2%

41.3%

2.89

3.13

Pitches

Four-seam

Two-seam

Slider

Curveball

Changeup

91.4 mph;

40.5%

88.9 mph;

2.0%

85.5 mph;

29.6%

72.7 mph;

22.8%

83.7 mph;

5.0%

Collin McHugh seemingly came out of nowhere to toss a great season for the Astros this year. His success has been pretty legitimate too. His whiff rate is a robust 11%, better than what Yu Darvish, David Price, and Gio Gonzalez have posted this year. It gets even more impressive when you look at his individual pitches -- he's been able to get double digit whiff rates with his slider and his curveball (13% for his slider and 17% for his curve). Against righties, his whiff rates become even more impressive. Four of his five pitches have a double digit whiff rate against righties and they're swinging and missing at one out of every five sliders he throws to them. As you can imagine, righties have not fared well against him -- they're hitting just .188 against McHugh this year.

RHP Nick Tropeano
(Triple-A Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

124 2/3

24.7%

6.8%

-

-

3.03

3.81

Pitches

Four-seam

Slider

Changeup

94.1 mph;

61.1%

80.4 mph;

16.7%

82.5 mph;

22.2%

Nick Tropeano will be making his Major League debut for the Astros on Wednesday. Once a top prospect in the Astros' farm system, a poor year in Double-A in 2013 knocked him off the prospect lists this year. He rebounded in Triple-A this year and could challenge for a rotation spot next year with a ceiling of a no. 3 or 4. His full pitch repertoire was hard to come by but most of the scouting reports I could find agreed that his changeup is his best pitch. His fastball sits in the mid- to low-90's and his slider is more of a slurvy breaking ball than slider. Along with his solid stuff, Tropeano also has a bit of deception in his delivery. The pitch stats above come from his brief time in the Arizona Fall League in 2012 so it's probably likely that he's added a pitch or two in the time since.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Angels

87-55

.613

-

L-W-W-W-W

Athletics

80-62

.563

7.0

L-L-L-W-L

Mariners

78-64

.549

9.0

W-W-W-W-L

Astros

63-80

.441

24.5

W-W-W-L-W

Rangers

54-89

.378

33.5

L-L-L-L-W

The Angels continue to separate themselves from the rest of the AL West after a three-game sweep against the Twins over the weekend. They have a makeup game against the Indians today and then travel to Texas to face the Rangers.

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Athletics

80-62

.563

+2.0

L-L-L-W-L

Mariners

78-64

.549

-

W-W-W-W-L

Tigers

78-65

.545

0.5

L-W-L-L-W

Indians

74-67

.525

3.5

W-L-W-W-W

Yankees

73-68

.518

4.5

W-W-L-W-L

The Athletics continue to implode and the Mariners are now just two games behind them for the top Wild Card spot. They travel to Chicago to face the White Sox in a four-game series. The Tigers lost two of three to the Giants over the weekend and flipped spots with the Mariners. They start a critical three-game series with the Royals today that could go a long way towards deciding the AL Central. The Indians wrapped up a three-game sweep of the White Sox and, after facing the Angels today, will start a three-game series against the Twins tomorrow. The Yankees are off today and will host the Rays for three games starting tomorrow.

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