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Series Preview: Mariners (38-37) vs. Astros (50-24)

Finally above .500, the Mariners begin a tough series against the Astros.

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

At a Glance

Astros Mariners
Astros Mariners
Game 1 Friday, June 23 | 7:10 pm
RHP Joe Musgrove RHP Felix Hernandez
50% 50%
Game 2 Saturday, June 24 | 7:10 pm
RHP Lance McCullers Jr. RHP Sam Gaviglio
58% 42%
Game 3 Sunday, June 25 | 1:10 pm
RHP Brad Peacock LHP Ariel Miranda
51% 49%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 121 (1st in AL) 104 (4th in AL) Astros
Fielding (UZR) -11.7 (13th) 12.6 (2nd) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 91 (2nd) 118 (14th) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 75 (2nd) 110 (13th) Astros

Note: Text appearing in italics has appeared in a previous series preview.

The Mariners finally broke through the symbolic barrier and are now above .500 for the first time this season. All it took was an impressive four-game sweep of the Tigers. Now that they’ve put together their second five-game winning streak of the year, the Mariners face a tough reality check. With the offense clicking and Felix returning, I can’t think of a better time to face the best team in the American League.

Now is as good a time as any to check in on the Mariners playoff odds. The second Wild Card team is projected to be around 82-84 wins, depending on the projection model. The Mariners are projected to win just about that many games this year. FiveThirtyEight is continually the most optimistic about the Mariners, giving them a 38% shot to making the playoffs. Baseball Prospectus is a little lower at 31.4% and FanGraphs gives them just a 24.4% chance. Simply based on the odds, the Rays, the Rangers, and the Blue Jays are the contenders the Mariners have to worry about, though the mediocrity of the American League means anyone could make a run, leaving everyone else in the dust.

The Astros:

The Astros had been struggling earlier this month, losing three straight series to the Angels, the Rangers, and the Red Sox. But they got back on track by sweeping the Athletics in four-games. With the largest division lead in the majors, they’re all but guaranteed a spot in the playoffs. The days of the Lastros are far behind us. Like the Mariners, they’ve had to deal with a slew of injuries to their starting rotation. The timing of their injuries and the Super-2 deadline means they were able to call up their top pitching prospects David Paulino and Francis Martes to fill their rotation while the Mariners were stuck with Christian Bergman and Sam Gaviglio earlier in the season.

Key Players

RF George Springer – George Springer currently leads the majors in leadoff home runs, with eight of his 21 round trippers coming in his first at bat of a game. His power surge has launched him to a 141 wRC+ through 307 plate appearances. Although his walk rate is down, his plate discipline stats are the best they’ve ever been. His o-zone swing% is lower than ever, while his contact rate is the highest of his career. He’s more selective than in the past, running the lowest swing rate of his career, but is capitalizing on pitches in the zone with his 83.7% z-contact rate. He recently hurt his hand, but is expected to play in the series opener.

2B Jose Altuve – Jose Altuve picked up right where he left off last season as one of the league’s most impressive hitters. He’s become a more selective batter, allowing his walk rate to jump to 9.3%, which is leaps and bounds above his career average of 5.9%. He’s swinging at the lowest frequency of his career, but continues to run a z-contact rate above 90%. He’s hitting the ball to all fields this year, which could explain his high BABIP even after a decrease in hard contact rate. Altuve consistently gets it done at the plate, hitting for average and power, and is now capable of drawing walks.

SS Carlos Correa – Carlos Correa is on pace for his best season in the bigs, owning a 141 wRC+. He’s also seen an improvement in plate discipline stats, with a sizable drop in his o-swing%, while seeing an increase in z-contact%. As a result, his hard contact rate is currently at a career high of 39.5%, while his soft contact% has plummeted to 14.1%. Over 41% of Correa’s batted balls are hit to the middle third of the field, and while he still hits his state of grounders, his fly ball rate has jumped to a career high of 33.7%. At just 22 years old, Correa is a mature and developed hitter.

RF Josh Reddick – I love talking about Josh Reddick and his transformation at the plate. When he joined the Athletics in 2012, his strikeout rate was 22.4%; last season, it was just 12.8%, and it’s just a little higher this year. But increasing his contact rate hasn’t come at the expense of his power. He’s accomplished the impossible by reducing his strikeouts while continuing to punish pitches at the plate. Unfortunately, a poor history against left-handed pitching and a long injury history have held him back from truly thriving. His isolated power is the highest it’s been since 2012 and that’s helped him post the highest wRC+ of his career this year.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Joe Musgrove

63 2/3 19.2% 7.4% 14.9% 40.9% 5.09 4.73

Pitch Repertoire

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.2 39.0% 133 83 116
Sinker 91.7 10.7% 125 160 137
Cutter 90.4 2.4% - - -
Changeup 84.4 11.7% 143 46 111
Slider 83.2 26.6% 31 85 49
Curveball 81.3 9.7% 206 94 169
*Musgrove’s cutter does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Joe Musgrove had a fairly successful major league debut last season as a 23-year-old rookie. His strikeout rate was right around league average and his excellent command transitioned well to the majors. He did struggle with the long ball and it pushed his FIP back towards league average. His fastball has some unique movement to it but it hasn’t translated into whiffs. His slider is probably his best pitch and he’ll also mix in a changeup and a curveball infrequently. This season, Musgrove has basically replicated his performance from his debut last year. His home run problem has been a little worse this year and that’s bumped his FIP from around league average to an ugly 4.74 and an even higher ERA. The last time he faced the Mariners, he allowed three runs in five and a third innings. He gave up seven hits, one walk, and struck out two.

Houston Astros v Kansas City Royals

RHP Lance McCullers Jr.

76 2/3 28.6% 7.4% 17.1% 63.0% 2.58 2.92

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 94.8 17.1% 53 140 82
Sinker 94.9 24.2% 117 142 125
Changeup 89.4 13.8% 163 126 151
Curveball 86.2 45.0% 160 121 147

Before his brief stint on the disabled list for a sore back, McCullers seemed like he had made all the adjustments needed to take his big step forward. His stuff is already dominant. His devastating curveball is one of the best in the majors, generating a swinging strike more than a fifth of the time he throws it. He also increased his ground ball rate to well above average last season and it’s even higher this year. The only thing holding him back was his walk rate and that’s dropped to a career low 7.4%. The only nit to pick is his home-run-per-fly-ball rate, but his overall fly ball rate is so low that a 17.1% HR/FB translates to just six home runs allowed this year.

RHP Brad Peacock

44 2/3 35.7% 13.0% 3.0% 44.1% 2.82 2.21

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.4 39.2% 178 127 161
Sinker 92.5 11.4% - - -
Changeup 82.0 5.6% - - -
Slider 81.3 35.2% 250 125 208
Curveball 77.6 8.5% - - -
*Peacock’s sinker, changeup, and curveball do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

Among pitchers who have thrown a similar number of innings this season, Brad Peacock’s strikeout rate ranks second in the majors (just below teammate Chris Devenski). But Peacock spent the first month of this year pitching out of the bullpen. What happens when we limit his sample to games he started? Oh, he has the highest strikeout rate of any starter in the majors this year, and his strikeout rate is higher as a starter than as a reliever. Okay. Prior to this year, his career strikeout rate was just 20%! What the heck happened? In short, Peacock dropped his arm angle so that he’s throwing around three-quarters instead of over the top, helping him add some ridiculous movement to his repertoire. He’s also started throwing his slider much more often—more than a third of the time. And he’s generating a whiff with that pitch a quarter of the time. Not a quarter of the time an opposing batter swings, but one out of every four sliders he throws generates a whiff. That pitch alone explains much of his newfound success this year.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 50-24 0.676 -- L-W-W-W-W
Mariners 38-37 0.507 12.5 W-W-W-W-W
Angels 38-38 0.500 13.0 W-L-W-L-W
Rangers 36-36 0.500 13.0 L-L-W-L-W
Athletics 31-42 0.425 18.5 W-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Red Sox 40-32 0.556 +2.5 L-W-L-W-L
Rays 39-36 0.520 -- W-W-L-W-W
Twins 36-34 0.514 0.5 L-L-W-W-L
Mariners 38-37 0.507 1.0 W-W-W-W-W
Angels 38-38 0.500 1.5 W-L-W-L-W

The Angels won their series against the Yankees and have managed to stick around .500 despite the absence of Mike Trout. They continue their East Coast swing with a three-game series in Boston. The Rangers split their four-game series against the Blue Jays and will travel to New York to face the Yankees. The Rays continue to play well enough to hold onto the second Wild Card spot. They won their series against the Reds and host the Orioles this weekend.