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Series Preview: Mariners (74-73) at Astros (88-58)

The Mariners wrap up their Texan road trip with three games in Houston.

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

At a Glance

Mariners Astros
Mariners Astros
Game 1 Friday, September 15 | 5:10 pm
LHP James Paxton RHP Charlie Morton
48% 52%
Game 2 Saturday, September 16 | 10:05 am
RHP Erasmo Ramirez LHP Dallas Keuchel
41% 59%
Game 3 Sunday, September 17 | 11:10 am
RHP Andrew Moore RHP Justin Verlander
36% 64%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Astros Edge
Overview Mariners Astros Edge
Batting (wRC+) 102 (4th in AL) 120 (1st in AL) Astros
Fielding (UZR) 12.6 (5th) -27.7 (14th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 117 (14th) 92 (3rd) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 97 (9th) 89 (6th) Astros

After losing the first game of the series in Arlington, the Mariners desperately needed to win the next three games. They did so emphatically, scoring 28 runs on their way to a series win. They leapfrogged the Rangers and the Royals in the standings with just the Angels and Twins standing in their way. Unfortunately, they couldn’t gain any ground on the Twins as they matched the Mariners win for win. They’ll need to carry that offensive firepower they showed off in Arlington to this series if they want to keep pace in the Wild Card race. A series win would be ideal, if improbable.

The Astros:

The Astros maintained a tight grip on the best record in the American League—and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs—for most of the season. But their massive lead has crumbled in the midst of the Indians insane win streak. They wrapped up the AL West way back in May but they still have a lot to play for if they want to play at home in the inevitable AL Championship against the Indians. Or maybe they don’t. Their regular season home record and run differential is actually much worse than their road record this year.

Key Players

RF 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.

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.

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 - Marwin Gonzalez' bat and positional versatility have made way for his best year of his career. A sharp increase in fly ball rate has catapulted his ISO to north of .200. He's also swinging at fewer pitches out of the zone, resulting in the highest walk rate of his career. He's seen time at first base, second base, third base, shortstop, and both corner outfield spots, giving the Astros a variety of ways to get him in the lineup.

3B Alex Bregman - After posting a 105 wRC+ in the first half, Alex Bregman has been unstoppable in the second half. He's cut his strikeout rate to 11.2%, while his ISO has jumped to .237. He rarely chases pitches out of the zone and runs an incredibly high contact rate. And with 16 steals for the season, he's a threat on the base paths.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Charlie Morton

128 1/3 26.8% 8.8% 13.0% 50.4% 3.86 3.56

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 96.0 12.2% 232 113 192
Sinker 95.3 42.4% 117 115 116
Cutter 88.5 11.9% 191 34 139
Splitter 87.0 5.6% 86 84 85
Curveball 81.1 27.6% 205 102 171

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.

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners

LHP Dallas Keuchel

127 2/3 20.6% 8.0% 20.0% 65.8% 3.03 3.83

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity (mph) Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 89.6 6.9% 14 165 64
Sinker 89.2 50.8% 208 165 194
Cutter 87.1 9.1% 71 111 84
Changeup 79.3 13.5% 207 97 170
Slider 79.0 18.9% 198 128 175

A couple of nagging injuries have really limited Dallas Keuchel’s effectiveness since winning the Cy Young award in 2015. A shoulder problem limited him to 26 forgettable starts last year and a neck issue has derailed his season this year. When he has been on the mound, the skills that helped him shut down the American League have been diminished. His ground ball rate is higher than ever—easily the highest among all starting pitchers in the majors—but his strikeout-to-walk ratio has fallen by almost two. And despite keeping the ball on the ground so often, even he isn’t immune to the fly ball revolution. His home run rate has jumped up each year since 2014 and is at the highest point of his career this year.

RHP Justin Verlander

186 24.7% 8.9% 11.4% 34.1% 3.58 3.94

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Pitch Type Velocity Frequency Whiff+ BIP+ Avg Pitch Score
Four-seam 95.7 57.9% 129 85 114
Changeup 88.0 4.0% 30 55 38
Slider 88.8 21.3% 92 87 90
Curveball 80.9 16.0% 60 93 71

Justin Verlander could have won the Cy Young award last year and no one would have blinked twice. After an injury-shortened season in 2015, he removed any lingering doubt about his health by pushing his fastball velocity back to his 95 mph norms and adding a ton of velocity to his slider. This season hasn’t been nearly as good as last year. A rough first half of the season saw his walk rate spiking all the way up to 10.9%, a drop in strikeout rate, and a 10 point jump in hard hit rate. All those struggles have been put to bed in the second half of the season. He’s cut his walk rate in half and added 10 points to his strikeout rate. He’s been the extremely good version of himself recently and the Astros jumped on acquiring him at exactly the right time.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 88-58 0.603 -- L-L-W-L-W
Angels 74-72 0.507 14.0 L-W-L-W-L
Mariners 74-73 0.503 14.5 L-L-W-W-W
Rangers 72-74 0.493 16.0 L-W-L-L-L
Athletics 64-82 0.438 24.0 W-W-L-W-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 80-66 0.548 +3.0 W-W-L-W-W
Twins 77-69 0.527 -- L-L-W-W-W
Angels 74-72 0.507 3.0 L-W-L-W-L
Mariners 74-73 0.503 3.5 L-L-W-W-W
Royals 72-74 0.493 5.0 W-L-W-L-L

The Royals had a chance to end the Indians win streak last night but blew it in the ninth and then lost it in the tenth. They’ll get three more chances to eke out a win this weekend. The Twins started off their series against the Blue Jays with a walk-off win last night, their second walk-off win in a row. The Angels lost their series to the Astros this week and will host the Rangers this weekend.