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Series Preview: Mariners (65-50) at Astros (73-42)

The Mariners continue their Texas tour with a four-game series in Houston.

MLB: ALCS-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The past ten games have been extremely difficult to watch. This stretch started off on an extremely high note: James Paxton outdueling Gerrit Cole in front of a packed Safeco Field. It’s been all downhill from there. Between boneheaded mistakes, lethargic play on the field, and the constant shadow of the off-field problems looming, it’s been difficult to cheer for the M’s recently. The series against the Blue Jays and the Rangers were supposed to help the team bounce back from a disappointing start to the second half but they’ve only buried themselves even further. They’ve got playoff caliber teams lined up for six of the next seven series.

At a Glance

Mariners Astros
Mariners Astros
Game 1 Monday, September 17, 5:10 pm
LHP Wade LeBlanc LHP Framber Valdez
38%% 62%%
Game 2 Tuesday, September 18, 5:10 pm
RHP Mike Leake RHP Gerrit Cole
33%% 67%%
Game 3 Wednesday, September 19, 5:10 pm
LHP James Paxton* LHP Dallas Keuchel
36% 64%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Mariners Astros Edge
Overview Mariners Astros Edge
Batting (wRC+) 101 (8th in AL) 112 (5th in AL) Astros
Fielding (UZR) -12.7 (12th) -12.6 (11th) Astros
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 100 (6th) 80 (1st) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 93 (5th) 71 (1st) Astros

The injuries continue to pile up for the Astros, though Carlos Correa should return to their lineup sometime this weekend. Still, George Springer was just sidelined with a sprained thumb and Lance McCullers is out indefinitely with an ominous elbow injury. José Altuve’s knee injury has healed a bit but hasn’t progressed enough to be activated for this series.

With all these injuries, they’ve struggled to score runs in the second half of the season—they’re scoring just 4.3 runs per game since the All-Star break after scoring 5.1 per game in the first half. Of course, they’re still preventing runs at a historic pace. They’ve allowed just 9 runs to score in six games in August.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
George Springer CF R 577 0.307 119 -2.5
Jose Altuve 2B R 549 0.355 137 4.7
Alex Bregman 3B R 654 0.296 164 2.9
Yulieski Gurriel 3B R 524 0.295 100 -0.3
Tyler White DH R 195 0.325 171 -0.5
Carlos Correa SS R 445 0.282 100 -0.2
Marwin Gonzalez RF S 512 0.302 102 -2.5
Martin Maldonado C R 87 0.241 89 -1.3
Tony Kemp LF L 264 0.319 128 -2.2

Marwin González’s out-of-nowhere 4.0 fWAR season last year was a huge boon to the world champions. He hasn’t come close to replicating that amount of production this year. After posting a .226 ISO last year, his power numbers have fallen back to his previous career norms. He has been able to carry over his plate discipline gains which has helped him post the highest walk rate of his career this year. And despite an overall regression in his power numbers, he’s already launched four home runs in August and has posted a 257 wRC+ this month.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Dodgers

LHP Framber Valdez

23.2 18%% 14%% 22.2%% 68.8%% 2.66 4.89

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 62.1% 95.5 2608 (2.32) 166 98
Changeup 1.5% 87.8 1902 (0.57)
Slider 22.5% 86.8 2658 (1.57) 115 112
Curveball 13.4% 79.9 2865 (1.30) 112 122
Verlander’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

It’s amazing that just a few years ago, it seemed like Justin Verlander’s career was headed into its twilight. When he was traded from Detroit to Houston, his FIP was sitting over four and he was posting the highest walk and home run rates of his career. Since joining the Astros, he’s posted a 2.77 FIP and an ERA under 2, completely rejuvenating his career. Rather than focusing on his breaking balls like you might expect from an Astros pitcher, Verlander is throwing his fastball more than ever. With good reason too as it’s arguably been the best fastball in baseball this season. The pitch possesses the eighth highest whiff rate among all four-seam fastballs and opposing batters are hitting just .209 off the pitch. His slider and curveball both remain excellent pitches too, each helping him generate swinging strikes and weak contact.

RHP Gerrit Cole

187.1 34.7%% 8.4% 10.5% 36.7% 2.88 2.75

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 51.5% 97.1 2362 (2.29) 165 90
Sinker 3.9% 96.6 2312 (1.61) 98 120
Changeup 4.7% 88.2 1733 (-0.29) 112 40
Slider 20.9% 89.1 2568 (0.57) 115 88
Curveball 19.0% 83.0 2850 (1.35) 113 112

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.

Cole was cruising through his last start against the Mariners, accumulating six strikeouts through five innings while allowing just two base runners. But the Mariners were able to scratch across two runs in the sixth inning and he eventually took the loss.

RHP Charlie Morton

131 1/3 30.8% 9.8% 15.9% 48.9% 2.81 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 31.2% 96.8 2226 (0.69) 144 99
Sinker 26.2% 95.9 2115 (-0.59) 140 117
Cutter 5.9% 89.2 2452 (0.61) 219 138
Splitter 6.3% 88.1 2136 (2.51) 87 108
Curveball 29.6% 80.3 2930 (1.47) 161 94

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

191.2 17.6% 6.4 11.8%% 53.9%% 3.57 3.66

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 13.4% 90.2 2160 (-0.36) 83 108
Sinker 40.3% 89.6 2051 (-0.96) 85 92
Cutter 15.8% 86.5 2167 (-0.60) 83 113
Changeup 12.3% 80.0 1560 (-1.74) 122 106
Slider 18.3% 79.0 2181 (0.00) 96 68

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 seven starts since making the adjustment to his repertoire, he’s allowed ten runs total, with the only hiccups coming in his starts against the Rangers and Mariners where he gave up three runs in each game.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 94-55 0.631 -- W-W-L-W-W
Athletics 90-60 0.600 4.5 L-L-W-L-W
Mariners 82-67 0.550 12.0 L-W-W-W-L
Angels 74-76 0.493 20.5 W-L-L-L-W
Rangers 64-85 0.430 30.0 L-W-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 71-42 0.628 +4.0 L-L-W-W-W
Athletics 68-47 0.591 -- W-W-W-L-W
Mariners 65-50 0.565 3.0 L-W-W-L-L
Angels 58-58 0.500 10.5 L-L-W-W-W
Rays 57-57 0.500 10.5 L-L-L-W-L

The Athletics split their two-game series against the Dodgers, as they managed to beat Clayton Kershaw last night. They’re off today and will travel to Anaheim this weekend for a three-game set. The Angels just wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Tigers yesterday, pushing their record back to .500. The Yankees also swept their opponent this week—the White Sox—and will host the Rangers for four this weekend.