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Series Preview: Mariners (10-11) at Astros (14-7)

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The Mariners continue their tour of Texas with a four-game series in Houston against the division-leading Astros.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Date

First Pitch

Away Team

Probable Pitcher

Home Team

Probable Pitcher

Thursday, April 30

5:10 pm

Mariners

LHP James Paxton

Astros

RHP Scott Feldman

Friday, May 1

5:10 pm

Mariners

LHP Roenis Elias

Astros

RHP Samuel Deduno

Saturday, May 2

4:10 pm

Mariners

RHP Taijuan Walker

Astros

RHP Collin McHugh

Sunday May 3

11:10 pm

Mariners

LHP J.A. Happ

Astros

RHP Roberto Hernandez

Mariners

Astros

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

94 (10th in AL)

107 (4th in AL)

Astros

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-14.5 (15th)

4.0 (4th)

Astros

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

94 (7th)

92 (5th)

Astros

Bullpen (FIP-)

84 (5th)

72 (4th)

Astros

I’ve started to include 2015 stats where appropriate after almost a month of data. You’ll see 2015 stats above and in the probable pitchers section. For a pitch to appear on the Pitch Arsenal graphs, it has to have been thrown over 100 times. That's why some of the graphs include just two or three pitches.

After putting everything together to sweep the Rangers in Arlington, the Mariners travel to Houston to take on the red hot Astros. Their success this year hasn’t been smoke and mirrors, they’ve legitimately played like one of the best teams in the league. It hasn’t been one area that’s stood out for the Astros either, their entire team is firing on all cylinders. Luckily, the Mariners will miss Dallas Keuchel for the second time this year.

The Astros:

The Astros have won their last six games in a row, sweeping the Athletics and the Padres on the road. Their 10-2 record on the road is easily the best in the majors. Because of their hot start, the Astros have vaulted themselves into the playoff race as a legitimate Wild Card candidate. Their playoff odds, according to FanGraphs, have increased by 20 points to 35% after 21 games. That’s good for the third best playoff odds in the AL West, just behind the Angels’ 38.9%.

Key Players

2B Jose Altuve Jose Altuve rode a .360 BABIP to win the American League batting title last year. It wasn’t just luck that drove his success last year. He was able to cut his strikeout rate by 5 points, down to just 7.5%. Much of that was driven by his ability to make contact outside the strike zone—he had the third best O-Contact% in the Majors last year. Still, regression should come but probably not a sharply as one might think. Altuve was also successful on 86% of his steal attempts on his way to 56 stolen bases last year. That rate is way out of line with his career rate and should come back down to earth.

SS Jed Lowrie Lowrie was recently placed on the disabled list with a strained thumb and he’ll be out until after the All-Star break. Jonathan Villar and Marwin Gonzalez will fill in at shortstop while he’s out. In 2012, Jed Lowrie was able to post a wRC+ of 110 and accumulated 2.4 fWAR in just 97 games for the Astros. After two years in Oakland, he’s back in Houston and will hold down the fort at shortstop until the Astros’ top prospect, Carlos Correa, is ready for the bigs. His decent power should play up in Houston as he already has three homers to start this young season. Defensively, he’s received mixed grades—UZR thinks he’s been an average defender over the last three years but DRS is much less impressed. He’s probably somewhere a bit below average in reality.

RF George Springer In 78 games last year, George Springer showed why he was considered one of the best prospects in baseball. His .237 ISO and 11.3% walk rate showed an ability to hit for power with a patient approach at the plate. The only problem was his whiff rate was the third highest in baseball and his contact rate was the worst in baseball among batters with at least 300 plate appearances. This year, his contact rate is even worse than last year and if he’s going to take the next step forward, he’ll have to figure out how to get the bat on the ball.

3B Luis ValbuenaLuis Valbuena was never a stand-out minor leaguer when he was in the Mariners’ farm system and was below replacement-level with the Indians. He didn’t put everything together until he was picked up by the Cubs. In Chicago, his plate discipline flourished as he learned how to take a walk. His above average power for an infielder allowed him to put together three seasons where he averaged 2.0 fWAR in part-time duty. He was traded to the Astros for Dexter Fowler and is now their starting third baseman. He’s already shown off his power this year but his walk rate is back down to pre-Chicago levels.

CF Jake MarisnickAs a prospect in the Marlins’ system, Jake Marisnick was always overshadowed by Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton. He was traded to the Astros last year and has put together a very impressive 2015 so far. He’s cut his strikeout rate by 12 points and is hitting for more power than ever before. That may just be a product of a hot bat as he’s only had an ISO above .200 once and his BABIP is a ridiculous .442. He’s also adding value with his legs and in the field. He’s already produced 1.4 fWAR in just 18 games!

1B Chris CarterThe powerful Chris Carter has gotten off to a slow start this year. He’s only hit two home runs and his ISO sits under .100. He had a similar start to 2014 and he ended up blasting 37 homers by the end of the year. He is whiffing at a higher rate than ever before and he isn’t making as much contact in the zone as he has previously but his strikeout rate is still within his career norms and his walk rate is as robust as ever. I guess he’s just a slow starter, and once the calendar turns over to May, watch out.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Scott Feldman

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

24 1/3

14.1%

3.0%

21.7%

53.1%

4.81

5.03

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

90.3 mph;

4.4%

90.4 mph;

25.7%

89.0 mph;

43.8%

83.9 mph;

3.4%

75.4 mph;

22.7%

Feldman_PAgraph

Scott Feldman has put together a successful career as a back-end starter. His strike out rates and his walk rates have never stood out and he generates an average amount of ground balls. Unsurprisingly, all of that adds up to a league average starter. He mainly relies on a sinker/cutter mix with a four-seam fastball and a changeup tossed in every once in a while. His best pitch in the past has been his curveball, but his whiff rate on that pitch is way down this year.

RHP Samuel Deduno (2014 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

100 2/3

18.7%

10.4%

11.4%

53.5%

4.47

4.31

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Curveball

90.5 mph;

65.5%

84.8 mph;

6.0%

81.6 mph;

28.5%

Deduno_PAgraph

The starter for Friday’s game hasn’t been officially announced but Samuel Deduno is expected to make the spot start. This 31-year-old journeyman has worked primarily out of the bullpen the last two years. He made nine starts last year and Friday would be his first start this year. He mainly throws a fastball and a curveball and will occasionally mix in a changeup. As a reliever, he was able to get his three pitch mix to play up and his whiff rate spiked as a result. As a starter, his strikeout rate was never above average and he’s often struggled with his control. His velocity is down by about 2 mph this year even though he’s been working out of the bullpen.

RHP Collin McHugh

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

24 2/3

23.0%

4.0%

0.0%

54.8%

2.92

1.76

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

91.7 mph;

26.3%

84.2 mph;

5.7%

87.5 mph;

45.3%

75.3 mph;

22.4%

McHugh_PAgraph

The emergence of Collin McHugh is one of the reasons the Astros pushed their plan forward. He and Dallas Keuchel make a formidable pair atop their rotation but questions still remained about the sustainability of McHugh’s success. He’s well on his way to answering those questions after four starts this year. His strike out rate hasn’t fallen and his walk rate is even lower than last year. He uses two plus pitches, his fastball and his curveball. He’s able to generate a huge amount of whiffs with both pitches and he’ll use them against both righties and lefties. His slider usage is of note as well. Since August 1 of last year, McHugh has thrown his slider at a much higher rate, with more velocity, and he started using it against lefties more often. That change in usage coincides with a run of twelve starts with an ERA of 1.77 and a FIP of 2.42.

RHP Roberto Hernandez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

23 2/3

16.5%

7.2%

21.1%

57.5%

3.80

4.87

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

89.8 mph;

4.0%

90.2 mph;

56.5%

83.4 mph;

28.9%

84.6 mph;

10.6%

Hernandez_PAgraph

This will be Roberto Hernandez’s tenth year in the Majors and in that time, he’s established himself as a fungible back-end starter who will reliably give you replacement-level production. He won’t strike out that many batters, he’ll give up a few too many walks, but generates enough grounders to survive. He mainly relies on his sinker which has led to a fairly even platoon split. He’ll mix in a slider to righties and a changeup to lefties as well. The Mariners were able to score three off of Hernandez when they faced each other last week with Mike Zunino capping it off with a massive blast into the bleachers at Safeco.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Astros

14-7

.667

-

W-W-W-W-W

Angels

10-11

.476

4.0

W-W-L-L-W

Mariners

10-11

.476

4.0

L-L-W-W-W

Athletics

9-13

.409

5.5

L-L-L-W-L

Rangers

7-14

.333

7.0

L-W-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Royals

14-7

.667

+2.5

L-L-W-W-L

Red Sox

12-10

.545

-

L-L-W-L-W

Rays

12-10

.545

-

W-W-L-L-W

Orioles

10-10

.500

1.0

L-L-W-W-W

Mariners

10-11

.476

1.5

L-L-W-W-W

We’re heading into the second month of play and the standings are becoming just a bit more settled. Perhaps the biggest surprises have been the excellent play of the Astros and the disappointing play of the Indians. The AL West continues to look like the weakest division in the league while the AL East again looks like the most interesting race.