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Series Preview: Mariners (8-5) vs. Astros (10-6)

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The Mariners wrap up their homestand with a four-game series against the reigning champions.

Baltimore Orioles v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Mariners and Athletics combined to hit 14 home runs over the weekend, accounting for more than two-thirds of the 32 runs scored during the three-game series. The top of the Mariners lineup is basically carrying the entire team because the pitching staff is allowing just as many home runs as the offense is hitting. The Mariners are 10th in baseball in runs scored per game but have allowed the 9th most runs per game.

At a Glance

Astros Mariners
Astros Mariners
Game 1 Monday, April 16 | 7:10 pm
LHP Dallas Keuchel LHP James Paxton
50% 50%
Game 2 Tuesday, April 17 | 7:10 pm
RHP Lance McCullers Jr. LHP Ariel Miranda
54% 46%
Game 3 Wednesday, April 18 | 7:10 pm
RHP Gerrit Cole RHP Mike Leake
55% 45%
Game 3 Thursday, April 19 | 12:40 pm
RHP Charlie Morton LHP Marco Gonzales
60% 40%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners (2017) Astros (2017) Edge
Overview Mariners (2017) Astros (2017) Edge
Batting (wRC+) 103 (4th in AL) 121 (1st in AL) Astros
Fielding (UZR) 10.1 (5th) -29.6 (13th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 115 (14th) 90 (2nd) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 99 (9th) 88 (5th) Astros

Surprisingly, the Mariners sit just a half game behind the Astros in the AL West standings. That would be more impressive if the Astros were in first place in the division but they sit three games behind the Angels right now. Houston will eventually regain their place atop the standings but for now, the AL West might be the most interesting division in baseball.

The Astros face the difficult challenge of chasing another championship. The last time a team won consecutive championships was the three-year stretch for the Yankees in the late 90s. With almost all of their key players returning this season, the Astros could have stood pat this offseason and they still would have been favorites to win another World Series. Instead, they went out and upgraded their rotation with Gerrit Cole. They could easily sport the best offense and the best pitching staff in baseball by the end of the year. That’s a scary thought.

Projected Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
George Springer CF R 629 0.297 140 -2.2
Alex Bregman 3B R 626 0.311 122 0.3
Jose Altuve 2B R 662 0.370 160 4.0
Carlos Correa SS R 481 0.352 152 1.6
Josh Reddick RF L 540 0.339 127 3.3
Yulieski Gurriel 1B R 564 0.308 118 0.8
Evan Gattis DH R 325 0.278 105 -3.1
Brian McCann C L 399 0.237 103 -1.8
Marwin Gonzalez LF S 515 0.343 144 0.5
*All stats from 2017

The Astros lineup should look pretty familiar since it’s almost exactly the same as last season. The one departure was Carlos Beltran but he had lost most of his playing time by the postseason anyway. The Astros posted a 121 wRC+ last year, the highest mark by a team since the 2003 Red Sox. That high flying offense has started off pretty quietly this year. George Springer and Alex Bregman are both hitting around the Mendoza Line and the bottom third of their lineup has been just as feeble as the Mariners has been. Still, a team loaded with this much talent won’t continue to score just four runs per game. The Mariners need to take advantage of that in this long series.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Houston Astros at Minnesota Twins

LHP Dallas Keuchel (2017)

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
145 2/3 21.4% 8.1% 21.1% 66.8% 2.90 3.79

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 4.7% 89.7 2152 (-0.62) 99 101
Sinker 53.2% 89.3 2034 (-1.50) 140 108
Cutter 10.5% 87.2 2130 (-0.88) 92 122
Changeup 12.6% 79.3 1538 (-1.19) 154 92
Slider 19.1% 79.1 2188 (0.03) 142 99

Since winning the Cy Young in 2015, Dallas Keuchel has posted back-to-back seasons with a FIP around 3.80. A spate of injuries have limited his effectiveness and have kept him off the mound for significant portions of the last two years. Still, he’s one of the best contact managers in the game, as evidenced by his 66.8% ground ball rate last season, easily the highest in the majors for a starter. He limits his repertoire to just his sinker and slider against left-handed batters but that’s clearly enough—they hit just .144 off him last season. To right-handed batters, he’ll also mix in a cutter and a changeup. His changeup is another plus pitch he can call on but his cutter just isn’t that great. Also, like many other ground ball specialists, when opposing batters do hit fly balls, they tend to go far. Keuchel is no exception as he’s struggled with a home run problem the past two years.


RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (2017)

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
118 2/3 25.8% 7.8% 12.7% 61.3% 4.25 3.10

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 40.4% 94.6 2294 (0.51) 100 97
Changeup 12.0% 89.4 1890 (0.59) 112 93
Curveball 47.6% 86.2 2871 (-0.01) 122 103

Lance McCullers is the poster boy for the new, breaking-ball heavy approach popularized by the Astros pitching staff the past few years. His curveball is one of the best in the game and he’s now throwing it more than half the time. It generates both whiffs and weak contact and has no significant platoon issues. But McCullers’s health is an ever looming issue. A recurring back injury forced him to the disabled list twice last season and it’ll probably be something he has to deal with for the foreseeable future. He can also be erratic at times if he loses control of his curveball. He was able to get his walk rate under control during the first half of last season (7.1%) but lost it during the second half (9.7%; 11% in the postseason).


RHP Gerrit Cole (2017)

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
203 23.1% 6.5% 15.9% 45.8% 4.26 4.08

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 43.2% 96.5 2163 (-0.22) 122 98
Sinker 16.5% 96.1 2089 (-0.09) 70 114
Changeup 10.7% 89.2 1633 (-0.31) 74 115
Slider 17.4% 88.6 2417 (0.06) 107 102
Curveball 12.1% 80.9 2667 (0.56) 87 129

If Gerrit Cole’s first three starts with the Astros have proven anything, it’s that the Pirates were really holding him back from reaching his lofty potential. Or maybe he’s just benefitting from a change of scenery and different coaching voices. Whatever the case may be, Cole has been brilliant in his brief Astros career. He’s racked up 36 strikeouts (an insane 46.8% strikeout rate!) and has allowed just three runs in 21 innings. And like you’d expect, his pitch mix has definitely changed after joining Houston. He’s almost completely done away with his sinker, instead relying on his excellent four-seam fastball as his primary pitch while increasing the usage of both his breaking balls. But he’s also increased the spin rate on his fastball, pushing it from a rather mediocre 2100 RPM average up to 2300 RPMs. That’s given the pitch some extra life and helped him add 14 points to its whiff rate.


RHP Charlie Morton (2017)

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
146 2/3 26.4% 8.1% 12.5% 51.8% 3.62 3.46

Pitch Arsenal

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (mph) Spin Rate (z-score) Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 12.9% 96.1 2237 (-0.19) 152 116
Sinker 41.3% 95.3 2113 (-0.68) 107 109
Cutter 11.3% 88.5 2409 (0.64) 124 57
Splitter 6.0% 87.0 2046 (0.54) 82 88
Curveball 28.2% 81.0 2875 (1.33) 143 98

As good as McCullers’s curveball is, Charlie Morton’s is even better, if you can believe that. But unlike McCullers, Morton has a number of other weapons in his arsenal that helped him post a career year at 33 years old last season. The increased velocity he gained in 2016 stuck around giving him a plus fastball he could use at the top of the strike zone. He also added a cutter to his repertoire to help him improve against left-handed batters. It generated a healthy whiff rate (31.2% vs LHH), but they were also able to knock it around when they made contact (.244 ISO against LHH). His health and advancing age are a concern but his evolution will go down as one of the most astute free agent signings of this era.


The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Angels 13-3 0.813 -- W-W-W-W-W
Astros 10-6 0.625 3.0 L-L-W-L-L
Mariners 8-5 0.615 3.5 W-W-W-W-L
Athletics 6-10 0.375 7.0 L-W-L-L-W
Rangers 6-11 0.353 7.5 L-L-L-W-W

The Angels pushed their win streak to seven games as they won twice in Kansas City before getting rained out yesterday afternoon. They’ll return home to face the Red Sox in a battle of the two best teams in the American League. The Rangers managed to win two of three against the Astros in Houston, both of their wins coming in extra innings off the suddenly vulnerable Astros bullpen. They’ll travel to Tampa Bay to start this week. The Athletics host the White Sox who haven’t played a game since Thursday due to snow-outs in Minnesota.