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Series Preview: Mariners (45-44) vs. Astros (48-41)

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The Mariners get the second half of the season started with a three-game series against the Astros.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Friday, July 15 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Astros

Mariners

RHP Doug Fister

LHP James Paxton

50%

50%

Saturday, July 16 | 1:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Astros

Mariners

RHP Lance McCullers

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

49%

51%

Sunday, July 17 | 1:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Astros

Mariners

RHP Collin McHugh

LHP Mike Montgomery

50%

50%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Astros

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

109 (3rd in AL)

97 (8th in AL)

Mariners

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-21.2 (13th)

11.7 (6th)

Astros

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

105 (8th)

97 (3rd)

Astros

Bullpen (FIP-)

95 (11th)

70 (1st)

Astros

*Text appearing in italics has appeared in a previous series preview.

The second half of the season begins today and the Mariners have some work cut out for them. Their next five series are against teams in the playoff hunt (HOU, CWS, @TOR, @PIT, @CHC). Jerry Dipoto has been noncommittal about the team’s position for the upcoming trade deadline. This next week of games should go a long ways toward pushing the Mariners into becoming buyers or sellers before July 31. If they’re able to gain ground on both the Astros and White Sox—two teams they’re looking up at in the standings—I could see the Mariners adding a piece or two to supplement the reinforcements arriving off the disabled list soon.

The Astros:

Since their dismal start to the season in April, the Astros have gone 41-24, a .631 pace. The biggest reason for their turn around? Their pitching staff. As a team, they allowed just 3.38 runs per game in June—and if it weren’t for the Indians, that would be the best mark in the majors. Their starting pitching has been good but it’s their bullpen that’s been truly impressive. Their relief corps has a FIP half a run better than the Yankees bullpen and only the Royals bullpen has a better ERA.

Key Players

2B Jose Altuve Year after year, Jose Altuve has improved far beyond what anyone might have expected. He’s turned himself into a legitimate MVP candidate by simply hitting the snot out of the ball. He’s always had elite contact skills but he’s added excellent power number to his game. At just 5’6", it’s hard to imagine him with an ISO over .200 but that’s where we are. His line drive rate is a career high, he’s chasing pitches out of the zone less often, and has seen the biggest leap in exit velocity in the past year. Right now, we’re witnessing a player completely locked in, with simply no flaws in his game.

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.

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 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 with the Astros.

1B A.J. Reed 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 but quickly flamed out. Three months into the season, A.J. Reed finally got the call up. He wasn’t exactly dominant in Triple-A (a .266/.345/.509 slash line), but the Astros need at first base overruled any concerns about his readiness. In his first seven games in the majors, he’s accumulated just three hits, one of them a home run.

3B Luis ValbuenaAs Dave Sims would say, "Valbuena, Valbuena, Valbuena." The former Mariner has seemingly been a thorn in their side since leaving the team in the Franklin Gutierrez trade back in 2008. He’s since developed into a league average third baseman with excellent walk rates and good power. If it seems like he hits a home run every time he faces the Mariners, you’d be almost correct. He’s hit more home runs against the Mariners (11) than he has against any other team. This year, he’s riding a career high BABIP to the best offensive season in his career, a 124 wRC+.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Doug Fister

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

106 1/3

15.0%

8.2%

13.5%

48.5%

3.55

4.87

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

88.5 mph;

5.9%

87.3 mph;

61.6%

84.1 mph;

4.9%

79.7 mph;

7.3%

82.0 mph;

5.7%

70.9 mph;

14.7%

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 around average but he’s developed a home run problem as his fastball has deteriorated. As the season has gone on, he’s raised his average fastball velocity from 86 mph to 87 mph. That slight increase in velocity helped him hold opposing batters to a .233 batting average since the beginning of May. And though his FIP is still driven up by walks and home runs, his ERA is a nice 3.01 during that same time period.

RHP Lance McCullers

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

57

28.2%

13.3%

6.3%

55.8%

3.79

2.89

Pitches

Four-seam

Changeup

Curveball

94.2 mph;

39.9%

88.6 mph;

9.3%

85.6 mph;

47.7%

McCullers PA

A bum shoulder held Lance McCullers out of action for the first month of the season but he’s picked up right where he left off. As a 21-year-old with just five starts above High-A, McCullers struck out almost a quarter of the batters he faced in his debut season. He’s increased his already excellent strikeout rate by two points this year but has struggled with maintaining his command as his walk rate has jumped up to 13.9%. He’s been able to avoid serious damage by inducing a ton of ground balls while keeping the ball in the park. His fastball and changeup are decent pitches but he may possess one of the best curveballs in all of baseball. No pitcher throws a curve as hard or as often as McCullers throws his, and when batters swing at the pitch, they miss more than 40% of the time.

RHP Collin McHugh

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

102

21.2%

6.8%

10.9%

43.7%

4.50

3.90

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

90.9 mph;

32.2%

87.3 mph;

31.1%

84.3 mph;

6.4%

73.5 mph;

28.7%

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’s pushed his strikeout rate back up to 21.2% this year but his home run rate has followed suit. His curveball is as good as ever but he’s lost a tick off his average fastball velocity. He’s still generating an above average amount of whiffs with the pitch but it’s no longer the weapon it used to be.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

54-36

.600

-€”

L-L-W-L-L

Astros

48-41

.539

5.5

W-L-W-L-W

Mariners

45-44

.506

8.5

L-L-W-L-W

Athletics

38-51

.427

15.5

L-W-L-W-L

Angels

37-52

.416

16.5

W-W-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Red Sox

49-38

.563

-€”

L-W-W-W-W

Blue Jays

51-40

.560

-€”

W-W-W-L-W

Astros

48-41

.539

2.0

W-L-W-L-W

Tigers

46-43

.517

4.0

W-L-L-W-L

White Sox

45-43

.511

4.5

L-W-L-W-L

Heading into the break, the Rangers managed to win just twice in seven games against the Twins allowing the Astros to cut the AL West deficit to just five and a half. The Rangers start the second half in Chicago against the Cubs. Both the Red Sox and the Blue Jays finished the first half on high notes but both still sit behind the Orioles in the AL East. Boston starts off in New York against the Yankees while the Blue Jays travel to Oakland. The Tigers and Royals face off against each other this weekend as well.