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Series Preview: Mariners (71-54) vs. Astros (75-49)

The Mariners host the Astros this week, looking to continue their win streak against them.

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

This will be the third time the Mariners and Astros have matched up in the last month. Ten games in less than 30 days. Right now, the Mariners hold the advantage, 5-2 over this stretch. But the incredible sweep in Houston feels like a faded memory after the disappointing series in Oakland and the thrashing handed out by the Dodgers. As poorly as the Mariners have played in July and August, it’s still sort of amazing they’re only four and a half games back in the division race. A lot of that has to do with Houston’s own struggles, but the Mariners are far from out of this race.

At a Glance

Astros Mariners
Astros Mariners
Game 1 Monday, August 20 | 7:10 pm
RHP Gerrit Cole RHP Félix Hernández
63% 37%
Game 2 Tuesday, August 21 | 7:10 pm
TBD RHP Mike Leake
57% 43%
Game 3 Wednesday, August 22 | 1:10 pm
RHP Charlie Morton LHP Marco Gonzales
58% 42%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Astros Edge
Overview Mariners Astros Edge
Batting (wRC+) 100 (7th in AL) 110 (3rd in AL) Astros
Fielding (UZR) -7.5 (11th) -7.7 (12th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 99 (6th) 78 (1st) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 95 (7th) 72 (1st) Astros

Getting Robinson Canó back should have been a big boost for the Mariners. That hasn’t exactly come to pass yet. The Astros have suffered through the loss of a number of their key players too—to injuries not suspension. But with José Altuve scheduled to come off the disabled list this week, they’ll be close to full strength. The Astros have gone 23-21 since losing Altuve to a knee injury. Of course, they also lost Carlos Correa and George Springer for a while during that stretch as well. Brian McCann could also be activated soon too, though his return will likely come later in the week.

Lance McCullers remains sidelined with a strained forearm. A couple of off days last week allowed the Astros to skip his turn in the rotation without much fuss. They won’t be able to do that during this series. The likely candidates to make a spot start are Brad Peacock or Collin McHugh. Though they have plenty of starting experience, neither is particularly stretched out at this point in the season. McHugh last pitched on Friday while Peacock made two appearances out of the bullpen over the weekend. No matter who ends up starting, I’d expect to see a steady stream of relievers out of the Astros bullpen on Tuesday.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
George Springer CF R 498 0.276 113 -1.4
Alex Bregman 3B R 547 0.283 151 2.4
José Altuve 2B R 454 0.363 139 4.0
Carlos Correa SS R 347 0.304 116 -0.6
Yulieski Gurriel 1B R 437 0.297 97 -2.6
Marwin González LF S 433 0.300 97 -1.8
Evan Gattis DH R 391 0.237 110 -1.2
Josh Reddick RF L 373 0.264 96 0.9
Martín Maldonado C R 326 0.280 77 -1.8

The only player still missing from the Astros opening day lineup is Brian McCann. Even though they’ve got all their stars back in the lineup, some of them have continued to struggle. Carlos Correa has just three hits since returning from his back injury. It’s certainly possible he’ll continue to feel the effects of that nagging injury throughout the rest of the season. George Springer picked up a couple of injuries to his hands this month, only one of which was serious enough to warrant a trip to the disabled list. He picked up three hits in the three games since returning to the lineup but his power could be diminished if those injuries linger.

Probable Pitchers

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros

RHP Gerrit Cole

159 2/3 34.9% 8.0% 9.7% 35.7% 2.71 2.61

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 52.2% 97.1 2368 (1.82) 162 90
Sinker 3.7% 96.6 2319 (1.66) 98 120
Changeup 4.7% 88.1 1677 (-0.52) 112 43
Slider 20.2% 89.1 2577 (0.81) 114 91
Curveball 19.2% 83.0 2838 (0.74) 121 111

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 Pittsburgh. 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.

This will be the third time the Mariners have faced Gerrit Cole in the past month, and the fourth time this season. The script for the last two matchups has been almost exactly the same: Cole is dominant for five innings but runs into trouble in the sixth inning. Both starts have resulted in losses for the Astros.

RHP Charlie Morton

85 2/3 24.8% 8.3% 14.1% 36.5% 3.57 4.29

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 30.1% 96.8 2245 (0.82) 140 100
Sinker 27.4% 95.8 2116 (-0.58) 137 110
Cutter 5.7% 89.2 2501 (0.92) 213 138
Splitter 5.8% 88.1 2109 (2.40) 85 110
Curveball 29.9 80.3 2923 (1.44) 155 99

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.

Just like Cole, this will be the third matchup against Morton in the past month and the fourth this season. The Mariners have won once against Morton this year, a 3-2 victory in Houston during the sweep. He’s allowed five runs in his three starts against the Mariners.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 75-49 0.605 -- L-W-L-L-W
Athletics 74-50 0.597 1.0 W-L-W-W-L
Mariners 71-54 0.568 4.5 L-W-L-W-L
Angels 63-63 0.500 13.0 W-L-L-W-L
Rangers 56-70 0.444 20.0 L-W-W-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 78-46 0.629 +4.0 L-L-W-W-W
Athletics 74-50 0.597 -- W-L-W-W-L
Mariners 71-54 0.568 3.5 L-W-L-W-L
Rays 63-61 0.508 11.0 W-W-L-L-W
Angels 63-63 0.500 12.0 W-L-L-W-L

The Astros were on the brink of losing their division lead to the Athletics after losing their first two games in Oakland. Their offense finally came alive on Sunday helping them salvage a win, just their third in their last ten games. Oakland continues their long homestand with a three-game set against the Rangers. The Yankees swept the Blue Jays over the weekend, helping them maintain a healthy distance in the Wild Card race. They travel to Miami for two games tomorrow before a four-game series in Baltimore.