Even without José Altuve and Carlos Correa, the Astros are no slouch. Even good teams go through bad stretches! Houston came into today on one of those - each of their last four games ended in defeat, and they scratched just eight runs across the board in that period. It was inevitable that a team with the depth that they have would bounce back eventually.
Tonight, though? C’mon, man.
As seems to be the trend with these types of losses, the game started with good feelings. Facing the daunting task of following James Paxton’s deconstruction of Houston’s hitters, Mike Leake breezed through his first three frames, a solid hit to Tony Kemp the only infraction. Alex Bregman and Marwin González were the only ones to make him work, and Leake won both battles on whiffs.
Denard Span lent a hand, as well.
Charlie Morton kept the Mariners bats quiet early, other than a triple from Span in the first that George Springer made an awkward dive on, only to come up with an achy shoulder and an early exit. While it didn’t look to be too serious, he’ll likely need tomorrow off. I’ll take that.
Dee Gordon also poked a hit the other way in the third, only to get picked off by a millimeter. Scott Servais opted to challenge, but to no avail. Fortunately, Dee blessed us with a reaction for the ages.
Leake got into some hot water in the fourth, surrendering two hits and plunking González on the shin with a wayward curveball, but guarded home plate admirably, striking out Evan Gattis and coaxing an easy grounder out of Tyler White. He displayed his usual fabulous control by issuing no free passes, and worked very efficiently over six innings. Jean Segura even gave him a brief lead!
Unfortunately, Josh Reddick grabbed it right back in the top of the fifth with a base hit into right to bring home Kemp. Although Chris Herrmann snuffed the rally out three pitches later with a brilliant throw to nab him trying to take second, the third time through the order proved to be Leake’s undoing. Both hits he allowed in the fifth were well-struck, and that trend continued in the sixth, with Bregman leading off with a rope to left field and Gattis harnessing the power of his beard on this swing:
Yuck. In all, though, this was a perfectly acceptable Mike Leake start, and his steady presence in the rotation has been calming. We may have projected him a little too optimistically based on his strong September last year, but he ended tonight with the ninth-lowest walk rate in baseball, and his ground ball ways have remained intact. He’s under contract for two more years, and hey remember how we got him for Rayder Ascanio and salary relief? That was a neat trade.
Mitch Haniger broke out of a brutal 1-for-23 slump with an RBI knock in the bottom half of the frame, the M’s pulled within one. With three straight lefties due up for Houston, I was hoping to see shiny new reliever Zach Duke in the seventh, though Servais’s choice of James Pazos was perfectly reasonable. Unfortunately, Pazos had little to no fastball command, getting just one out while walking Springer replacement Kyle Tucker and giving up a bloop hit to goblin Josh Reddick. He was promptly yanked, setting the stage for the debut of another shiny new reliever in Sam Tuivailala.
Tuivailala immediately showed his upside, hitting 96 easily and dropping this disgusting 2-1 curve to Bregman:
Bregman flied out thanks to a nice running grab by Haniger, and Tuivailala got out of the inning with a dribbler from Yulieski Gurriel. He went on to work the eighth, and while he allowed two hits - one of which would have been a strikeout if not for from rough framing by Herrmann - but again kept the Astros off the board thanks to a smooth 6-4-3 double play. He earned the team’s best WPA mark tonight, and I’m very excited to see what he can do in the future.
Zach Duke’s Seattle debut, on the other hand...
This was the first home run Duke has given up all year. Off of a lefty, no less, a type of hitter he’s been dominant against for the past few years. Oh, well. At least it wasn’t a super high-leverage spot. Chasen Bradford - who we may have seen the last of for now once the third shiny new reliever Adam Warren arrives - closed out the inning, and the Mariners went away quietly to end the game.
Despite the loss, though, there were several good things to take from this game. Sam Tuivailala looked like every bit of his ceiling, Jean went deep, and Denard quietly had an excellent day at the plate, reaching base three times. It’s always nice when we can find things that salve the pain of losing, and despite Oakland winning yet again, the team will enter tomorrow with that last playoff spot solely in their hands. Wade LeBlanc squares off against Dallas Keuchel tomorrow. I’ll set the over/under for total changeups thrown at 50.5.