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Series Preview: Mariners (62-43) vs. Astros (67-40)

Houston Astros v Colorado Rockies Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Even though the Mariners lost their weekend series in Anaheim, they gained a game on both the Athletics and the Astros. The A’s were swept in Colorado, scoring just four runs in three games while the Astros scored just eight runs in their three-game series against the Rangers at home. It’s pretty fortuitous that both of the main challengers to the Mariners postseason hopes are stumbling into August. With less than 24 hours until the trade deadline, we’ll see if these three teams stay the same by the end of this series.

At a Glance

Astros Mariners
Astros Mariners
Game 1 Monday, July 30 | 7:10 pm
RHP Gerrit Cole LHP James Paxton
54% 46%
Game 2 Tuesday, July 31 | 7:10 pm
RHP Charlie Morton RHP Mike Leake
57% 43%
Game 3 Wednesday, August 1 | 1:10 pm
LHP Dallas Keuchel LHP Wade LeBlanc
55% 45%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Astros Edge
Overview Mariners Astros Edge
Batting (wRC+) 103 (7th in AL) 111 (3rd in AL) Astros
Fielding (UZR) -2.9 (11th) -4.0 (12th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 98 (6th) 79 (1st) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 89 (4th) 74 (2nd) Astros

Don’t look now, but the Astros hold on the division looks as vulnerable as it has since they were the Lastros. Both Carlos Correa and José Altuve have been sidelined with injuries and the rest of the lineup has struggled to pick up the slack. They’ve won just four of their last ten and have gone 15-12 since losing Correa to the disabled list.

Even with their offensive struggles, the Astros still have the best starting rotation in baseball. Their bullpen, one of the best in the American League per FIP-, has really struggled lately. Over the last two weeks, their relievers hold an ugly 8.42 ERA. Ken Giles was demoted to Triple-A a few weeks ago and the Astros have added Ryan Pressly from the Twins to bolster their relief corps.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
George Springer CF R 468 0.276 114 -1.6
Alex Bregman SS R 470 0.277 153 2.6
Josh Reddick RF L 309 0.269 100 1.5
Yulieski Gurriel 1B R 370 0.305 101 -2.7
Evan Gattis DH R 341 0.247 114 -1.1
Marwin González 2B S 362 0.294 86 -1.1
J.D. Davis 3B R 71 0.244 59 0.5
Max Stassi C R 203 0.325 111 -0.6
Tony Kemp LF L 162 0.322 130 -2.5

After starting off the year well, George Springer suffered through a prolonged slump through most of June and July. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with his underlying stats, just a bout of bad luck. And it looks like he’s broken out of his funk since the All-Star break. He’s already hit three home runs in the second half and collected hits in every game save one. Alex Bregman, the surprise Home Run Derby contestant, has followed his breakout season with an even better one. He’s walking more than he’s striking out and has pushed his power numbers into elite territory. Not only that, but he’s capably slid over to shortstop during Correa’s absence.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Houston Astros at Colorado Rockies

RHP Gerrit Cole

134 2/3 35.3% 8.7% 11.4% 35.1% 2.54 2.89

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 51.1% 97.0 2354 (2.24) 167 90
Sinker 3.8% 96.5 2312 (1.81)
Changeup 4.7% 88.1 1702 (-0.41) 121 25
Sinker 21.3% 89.1 2561 (0.74) 117 90
Curveball 19.1% 82.9 2844 (0.76) 115 122
Cole’s sinker does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Gerrit Cole has continued to dominate the American League after coming over from the Pirates in the offseason. He’s running the second highest strikeout rate in the majors and is on pace to accumulate the most fWAR of his career. Still, he’s also running the highest walk rate of his career and has continued to be plagued by a home run problem, something that developed last season in Pittsburg. Because he’s basically abandoned his sinker and has focused his repertoire on his four-seam fastball, he’s allowing much more air contact, leading to a suppressed BABIP. Combined with his insane strikeout numbers, that’s given him all the tools he needs to kill rallies and run a strand rate well above average.

RHP Charlie Morton

118 1/3 30.6% 9.9% 15.6% 50.0% 2.89 3.45

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 31.4% 96.9 2228 (0.70) 136 102
Sinker 25.8% 95.9 2122 (-0.54) 147 120
Cutter 6.1% 89.2 2441 (0.59) 209 138
Splitter 6.4% 88.1 2158 (2.60) 89 135
Curveball 29.6% 80.2 2929 (1.46) 162 93

As good as Charlie Morton was during their championship run last season, he’s been even better this year. He’s been completely healthy and has added four points to his strikeout rate, pushing it over 30%. He’s throwing his four-seam fastball more often this season, basically splitting his fastball usage evenly between it and his sinker. That’s given him a third pitch with an above average whiff rate to call on reliably. It’s also given him a pitch to use up in the zone. He’s now peppering all three levels in the strike zone—four-seamers up in the zone, sinkers down, and curveballs in the dirt—giving batters even more to think about. Like Cole, he has struggled with an elevated walk rate this year, but his excellent ground ball rate has helped him manage those extra baserunners.

LHP Dallas Keuchel

135 17.9% 6.3% 12.9% 54.5% 3.60 3.71

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 12.1% 90.1 2173 (-0.27) 84 108
Sinker 41.5% 89.6 2053 (-1.08) 86 94
Cutter 15.7% 86.3 2175 (-0.72) 88 112
Changeup 12.1% 80.0 1562 (-1.73) 125 108
Slider 18.6% 79.0 2185 (0.01) 99 71

It’s unlikely that Dallas Keuchel will replicate the same level of production that earned him a Cy Young award. Everything about that year looks like an outlier when compared to what’s come since. Still, his brand of contact management will always be useful, even if he’s only the fifth best pitcher in the Astros rotation now. After struggling through the first couple of months of the season, Keuchel has tinkered with his repertoire to try and get his groove back. In July, he’s almost completely abandoned his cutter in favor of his changeup. That pitch was one of the big reasons why he was so successful in his award-winning season so getting back to it seems like a good plan. In the five starts since making the adjustment to his repertoire, he’s allowed six runs total, with the only hiccup coming in his last start against the Rangers where he gave up three runs in five innings.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 67-40 0.626 -- W-L-L-L-L
Mariners 62-43 0.590 4.0 L-W-L-L-W
Athletics 61-46 0.570 6.0 W-W-L-L-L
Angels 54-53 0.505 13.0 W-W-W-W-L
Rangers 45-62 0.421 22.0 L-L-W-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 67-37 0.644 +5.5 L-W-L-W-W
Mariners 62-43 0.590 -- L-W-L-L-W
Athletics 61-46 0.570 2.0 W-W-L-L-L
Angels 54-53 0.505 9.0 W-W-W-W-L
Rays 53-53 0.500 9.5 W-W-L-L-L

Like I mentioned in the lede, both the Astros and the Athletics were swept over the weekend. The A’s will play 17 of their next 20 games at home beginning with a three-game set against the Blue Jays. They’ve haven’t played nearly as well in the Coliseum (-21 run differential) as they have on the road (+54 run differential). The Angels are off today while traveling to Tampa Bay before a three-game series against the Rays.