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Series Preview: Mariners (16-11) at Astros (10-18)

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The Mariners head to Houston for a crucial early season series against a AL West rival.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Thursday, May 5 | 5:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Astros

LHP Wade Miley

RHP Chris Devenski

49%

51%

Friday, May 6 | 5:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Astros

RHP Taijuan Walker

RHP Doug Fister

51%

49%

Saturday, May 7 | 4:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Astros

RHP Nathan Karns

LHP Dallas Keuchel

44%

56%

Sunday, May 8 | 11:10 am

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Astros

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

RHP Collin McHugh

51%

49%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners (2016)

Astros (2016)

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

111 (3rd in AL)

108 (4th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-5.6 (11th)

-1.5 (9th)

Astros

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

98 (6th)

112 (12th)

Mariners

Bullpen (FIP-)

80 (4th)

100 (11th)

Mariners

We’re more than a month into the season and the Astros just won their first back-to-back games against the Twins, the only other team in the American League with a worse record. Their disappointing start is reminiscent of last year’s version of the Mariners: extremely high expectations heading into the season followed by a face plant out of the gate. Luckily for this year’s version of the Mariners, the Astros have dug themselves a big enough hole that the division is now wide open for the taking.

All three major playoff odds sites give the Mariners more than a 50% chance of making the playoffs now. Baseball Prospectus gives the Mariners a 70.5% chance of making the playoffs and the best odds to win their division of any team in the American League. FanGraphs gives the Astros the highest playoff odds of the three at 31.5% while FiveThirtyEight gives them just a 19% chance of playing in October. If the Mariners are able to win this four-game series, it could go a long way towards burying the Astros and securing their place atop the AL West.

The Lastros:

With their 16-4 win over the Twins yesterday, the Astros boosted their overall run differential to -22. If it weren’t for their abysmal starting pitching, the Astros might not be so bad. Their rotation has posted the worst ERA in the American League and fourth worst FIP (guess which three teams have a worse FIP? The Angels, Rangers, and Athletics). Their strikeout rate as a group is well below league average and the impending return of Lance McCullers will only help so much.

Key Players

RF George SpringerWith Carlos Correa taking up most of the spotlight, it can be easy to overlook just how good George Springer really is. George Springer’s massive power has been on display since his debut two years ago. As a rookie, almost a third of his hits were blasted out of the park. Injuries limited his power output a bit last year, but he was able to cut almost nine points off his strikeout rate, boosting his batting average up to .276. He’s regained his power stroke and has maintained the improved plate discipline this year helping him post a career high 141 wRC+.

CF Carlos GomezAt the time, the Mets backing out of their deal with the Brewers for Carlos Gomez was ridiculed for its signs of organizational dysfunction. In hindsight, it might have been the most prescient decision made by Sandy Alderson (it helps that Yoenis Cespedes has thrived in New York as well). Since joining the Astros, Carlos Gomez has not looked like the player who accumulated over 16 fWAR between 2012 and 2014. His power has all but dried up and his strikeout and walk rates are both trending in the wrong direction. Since the Astros are batting him in the middle of their lineup, he hasn’t had a chance to show off his speed either. He still plays a decent center field which is just about the only thing that’s gone right for him this year.

SS Carlos Correa – Carlos Correa took baseball by storm last year. He was called up at the start of June and compiled 3.3 fWAR in just four months. He showed off his power, his speed, and his hitting prowess with an offensive performance 33% better than league average. He’s just 21 years old so we should expect some ups and downs but he also has a lot of room to grow. He hasn’t even played a full season in the majors yet and he’s already one of the best shortstops in the game.

2B Jose Altuve When you think about Jose Altuve, I’m guessing you immediately think of a short, slap-hitting, speedster who won the batting title in 2014. That same player has already hit five home runs this year pushing his isolated power all the way up to .303. It’s not all small sample size noise either. He’s increased his average exit velocity from a very poor 86.2 mph to a very good 93.4 mph, comparing favorably to Bryce Harper and Nelson Cruz. Altuve probably won’t be able to maintain such a high ISO, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him crack 20 home runs this year.

1B Tyler White First base was a position of some concern for the Astros this offseason. It seemed like there were no good internal candidates to hold the position until A.J. Reed was ready for the show. Enter Tyler White. He emphatically won the competition during spring training and has been one of the best rookie hitters in baseball so far. He was more known for his ability to control the strike zone during his minor league career rather than his ability to hit for power. Well he’s striking out more than a quarter of the time in the majors but his isolated power is a robust .306. Like Altuve, he probably won’t end the year with an ISO over .300.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Chris Devenski (2016 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

18 2/3

22.5%

5.6%

5.0%

31.4%

1.45

2.69

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Slider

Curveball

93.3 mph;

47.5%

82.1 mph;

32.9%

82.8 mph;

7.8%

75.9 mph;

11.8%

A big spring training for Chris Devenski helped him jump from Double-A to the majors this year. He started the year as the long man in the Astros’ bullpen and made a spot start last weekend in place of the ineffective Scott Feldman. His fastball’s velocity has played up in the bullpen, normally sitting around 90-91 as a starter. Due to the healthy amount of "rise" he gets on the pitch, he’s generates a lot of fly balls which is dangerous territory for a pitcher in Houston. His best pitch is his changeup which has allowed him to thrive in the minors, but may not be good enough to help him be successful in the majors. He also mixes in two different breaking balls, a slow curve and a harder slider.

RHP Doug Fister (2016 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

29 1/3

12.7%

9.5%

19.2%

42.9%

4.60

5.42

Pitches

Sinker

Cutter

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

86.8 mph;

62.1%

83.6 mph;

9.7%

80.2 mph;

10.1%

81.7 mph;

3.8%

70.8 mph;

9.7%

Fister PA

Doug Fister’s success is closely tied to the velocity of his fastball. In years where his fastball averaged over 89 mph, his average FIP was 3.34; in years where he threw slower than that threshold, his average FIP is a ghastly 4.66. Fister’s walk rate is still well above average but he’s developed a home run problem as his fastball has deteriorated. The Astros had to be encouraged to see Fister hitting 90 mph during spring training this year. But in his three starts during the regular season, his fastball has averaged 86 mph, matching his average velocity from last year. I think you can guess how those three starts have gone for him.

LHP Dallas Keuchel (2016 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

37

18.6%

11.2%

4.3%

55.5%

5.11

3.26

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Slider

88.2 mph;

4.2%

88.8 mph;

46.3%

85.1 mph;

12.9%

79.8 mph;

11.1%

78.3 mph;

25.5%

Keuchel PA

The reigning Cy Young award winner has struggled out of the gate this year. Dallas Keuchel lived at the bottom of the zone with his sinker and got more called strikes on pitches outside of the zone than any other pitcher. With the strike zone under so much scrutiny—particularly the low strike—it was only a matter of time before the league adjusted to Keuchel’s game plan. Batters are also swinging at his pitches outside of the zone less frequently leading to a big leap in walk rate. To compensate, he’s pitching in the zone a little bit more frequently but has lost a tick or two of velocity off all of his pitches. It all adds up to a profile that’s pretty good, but not the Cy Young caliber pitcher we saw last year.

RHP Collin McHugh (2016 Stats)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

27 1/3

17.8%

5.4%

9.8%

36.7%

6.59

4.06

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

90.8 mph;

30.8%

87.1 mph;

37.1%

84.5 mph;

4.2%

72.9 mph;

26.6%

McHugh PA

In 2014, Collin McHugh came out of nowhere to strikeout more than a quarter of the batters he faced across 25 starts for the Astros. Last year, his strikeout rate fell to just under 20% and batters learned to key in on his cutter—he allowed a .309 batting average off the pitch—driving his ERA up by more than a run. Despite all the hits he was allowing, he was able to keep the ball in the yard, helping him keep his FIP at a very good level. He was still very stingy with the walks and his fastball and curveball were as good as ever. With those two weapons in his arsenal, he’s good enough to continue to post a FIP around 3.50.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Mariners

16-11

.593

-

W-L-W-W-W

Rangers

15-13

.536

1.5

W-L-W-L-L

Angels

13-15

.464

3.5

L-W-L-L-W

Athletics

13-16

.448

4.0

W-L-L-L-L

Astros

10-18

.357

6.5

L-W-L-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Orioles

15-11

.577

+1.0

W-L-L-W-L

Tigers

14-12

.538

-

W-W-W-L-L

Royals

14-13

.519

0.5

L-W-L-W-L

Indians

12-12

.500

1.0

L-L-L-W-W

Blue Jays

14-15

.483

1.5

L-W-L-W-W

Just another reminder that the Lastros are in last place in the AL West. The Rangers have lost two games in a row in walk-off fashion to the Blue Jays and hope to salvage their four-game series today. They’ll face the best team in the American League, the Chicago White Sox, this weekend. The Angels avoided getting swept by the Brewers with a win yesterday. They’re off today before hosting the Rays this weekend.