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Series Preview: Mariners (46-47) at Astros (62-30)

The Mariners hope to keep their momentum going against the best team in baseball.

Minnesota Twins v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

At a Glance

Mariners Astros
Mariners Astros
Game 1 Monday, July 17 | 5:10 pm
LHP Ariel Miranda RHP Lance McCullers Jr.
34% 66%
Game 2 Tuesday, July 18 | 5:10 pm
RHP Sam Gaviglio RHP Brad Peacock
35% 65%
Game 3 Wednesday, July 19 | 11:10 am
LHP James Paxton RHP Charlie Morton
42% 58%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Astros Edge
Overview Mariners Astros Edge
Batting (wRC+) 105 (4th in AL) 130 (1st in AL) Astros
Fielding (UZR) 13.3 (4th) -19.0 (14th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 118 (12th) 91 (3rd) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 105 (13th) 78 (3rd) Astros

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

Sweeping any team while playing on the road is incredibly difficult. The Mariners accomplished that feat by grinding out three come-from-behind wins in a row. The bullpen was obviously a huge part of this successful series, allowing just one run in 14 innings (one inherited runner was allowed to score) while striking out sixteen White Sox. The downside is that their best relievers are now incredibly taxed heading into this series against the Astros. This series was going to be difficult no matter what but a shorthanded bullpen makes it even more daunting. The pitching matchups alone make a series win a longshot, but it would push the Mariners back to .500 and give them a ton of momentum to begin the second half.

The Astros:

The Astros are extremely good this year, but their performance in July has seen them reach new heights. In just 11 games played this month, they’ve scored 95 runs. That’s 8.6 runs per game. There are some teams that won’t score 95 runs in a full month of play. Their offense has been so good that it’s being compared to some of the best offenses of all time. It’s gotten to the point where manager A.J. Hinch is drawing names out of a hat to determine who to sit to get Marwin Gonzalez’s bat into the lineup.

Key Players

RF Josh ReddickI love talking about Josh Reddick and his transformation at the plate. When he joined the Athletics in 2012, his strikeout rate was 22.4%; it’s dropped all the way down to 13.7% 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. His isolated power is the highest it’s been since 2012 despite hitting just nine home runs. Instead of hitting balls over the fence, he’s posting career highs in almost every other offensive category, helping him post the highest wRC+ of his career.

UTIL Marwin Gonzalez – Through 271 plate appearances, Marwin Gonzalez has the second highest wRC+ on the Astros. He’s seen a massive increase in power this year, running a .268 ISO; however, his jump in walk rate from a career 5.5% average to 10.7% is equally impressive. His swing rate is down 4.4% from his career average. More specifically, he’s swinging at fewer bad pitches, dropping his o-swing% nearly 7% from last season. His contact rate has also jumped over 5% from last year. He’s hitting more fly balls than ever in his career. Pair that with his 25.4% HR/FB and you have a recipe for a lot of long balls. He’s played everywhere in the field besides catcher this year, allowing the Astros to find ways to get him in the lineup.

1B Yulieski Gurriel – Yulieski Gurriel has been incredible since the beginning of June, posting a 157 wRC+ in that stretch. He rarely goes down on strikes, with an impressive 11.5% strikeout rate for the season. He also, however, doesn’t walk a lot, with just a 1.9% walk rate in 321 plate appearances. Regardless, his ability to swing the bat has earned him a 117 wRC+ for the season. He’s been ripping the cover off the ball lately, evidenced by a .272 ISO in his last 141 plate appearances.

CF George SpringerGeorge 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 AltuveJose 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 CorreaCarlos 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.

Probable Pitchers

Houston Astros v Toronto Blue Jays

RHP Lance McCullers Jr.

91 1/3 28.0% 7.1% 13.6% 63.0% 3.05 2.73

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 40.9% 59 173 97
Changeup 89.4 13.9% 150 98 133
Curveball 86.2 45.1% 163 122 149

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. Since returning from the disabled list against the Mariners toward the end of June, he’s allowed ten runs in fifteen innings across three starts. It’s possible that some of the back issues that sidelined him in the first place were still bothering him.

RHP Brad Peacock

61 2/3 32.1% 14.1% 1.9% 39.6% 2.63 2.53

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 93.3 35.8% 156 102 138
Sinker 92.3 14.3% 157 65 126
Changeup 81.8 5.1% - - -
Slider 81.5 36.2% 216 99 177
Curveball 77.7 8.6% 163 13 113
Peacock’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Among starting pitchers who have thrown a similar number of innings this season, Brad Peacock’s strikeout rate ranks fifth in the majors. But Peacock spent the first month of this year pitching out of the bullpen. Oh, 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 from an over-the-top delivery to a three-quarters delivery, 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. Perhaps the most amazing Brad Peacock stat is the number of home runs he’s allowed: just one. In this era of exit velocity, launch angle, and juiced balls, Peacock has allowed one measly home run this season.

RHP Charlie Morton

68 2/3 26.1% 10.0% 18.4% 50.5% 4.06 4.19

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 96.4 7.0% - - -
Sinker 95.7 48.3% 79 108 89
Cutter 88.7 11.4% 175 72 141
Splitter 87.0 6.0% - - -
Curveball 81.4 27.2% 248 89 195
*Morton’s four-seam and splitter do not have large enough sample sizes for pitch arsenal scores.

Let’s get this out of the way first, Charlie Morton’s fastball velocity is still elevated. It’s declined month-over-month this season, but even at its lowest point, it’s higher than it was in his brief four-game renaissance last year. That added velocity has received all the attention but it’s only one aspect of his success. The biggest reason why he’s been able to maintain a strikeout rate over 26% this season has been his curveball. That pitch has always been effective but he’s taken it to new heights this year. He’s inducing a whiff over half the time an opposing batter swings at the pitch. That’s the highest whiff rate of his career and has more than made up for the depressed whiff rate he’s suffered on his sinker. Morton returned from a month-long stint on the disabled list right before the All-Star break.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 62-30 0.674 -- L-W-W-L-W
Mariners 46-47 0.495 16.5 L-W-W-W-W
Rangers 45-46 0.495 16.5 W-L-W-W-L
Angels 46-49 0.484 17.5 L-W-L-L-W
Athletics 42-50 0.457 20.0 W-L-W-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rays 49-44 0.527 +0.5 W-W-W-W-L
Yankees 47-43 0.522 -- L-L-W-W-L
Twins 46-45 0.505 1.5 L-L-L-W-L
Royals 45-45 0.500 2.0 L-L-L-L-W
Mariners 46-47 0.495 2.5 L-W-W-W-W

The Athletics kicked off the second half with a three-game sweep of the Indians at home. They’ll host the Rays to start the week in another series with Wild Card implications. Cleveland had built a comfortable lead in the AL Central during the first half of the season but now lead the Twins by just a game and a half. The Yankees have also scuffled recently, splitting their four-game series against the Red Sox over the weekend. They’ll travel to Minnesota for three before heading to Seattle later this week. The Rangers won their weekend series against the Royals and travel to Baltimore looking to continue to gain ground. The Royals host the Tigers to start this week.