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Series Preview: Mariners (37-48) at Astros (50-32)

The Mariners head to Houston for the first time this season.

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 Astros were by and large supposed to run away with the division, but a plague of injuries and deeply suspect pitching have conspired to make this season a rockier road. This series marks an opportunity for Houston to right the ship, and perhaps for their offense to recall how to actually hit with runners in scoring position. The Mariners have actually been playing decent baseball recently. They’ve won six of their last 10 and won four of their last six series.

At a Glance

Mariners Astros
Mariners Astros
Game 1 Friday, June 28 | 5:10 pm
LHP Tommy Milone LHP Wade Miley
36% 64%
Game 2 Saturday, June 29 | 5:15 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi RHP Justin Verlander
28% 72%
Game 3 Sunday, June 30 | 11:10 am
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Gerrit Cole
33% 67%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 119 (1st in AL) 111 (4th in AL) Astros
Fielding (DRS) 65 (1st) -69 (15th) Astros
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 93 (5th) 117 (14th) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 94 (7th) 109 (13th) Astros

As we all expected, the Astros are currently leading the AL West 50-32 coming into this series, but it hasn’t been all sunshine and bluebonnets. They’ve gone 2-8 in their 10 games, including 14-2 and 10-0 drubbings in the last two games against the Pirates. Yes, those Pirates. The Rangers (yeah, I don’t know either) are just five games back of them in the division standings right now, and the not-so-Lastros should be starting to feel the heat.

The ‘Stros currently have the second-most GDPs in all of baseball (the Mariners have the fewest!), which makes it likely that JP Crawford will have ample opportunities to show off his highlight-reel-worthy glove once again.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
George Springer CF R 228 0.326 172 1.3
José Altuve 2B R 200 0.261 117 -1.6
Alex Bregman SS R 356 0.240 149 -1.6
Michael Brantley LF L 337 0.326 136 -0.6
Yordan Álvarez DH R 65 0.294 189 -0.1
Yuli Gurriel 3B R 320 0.279 92 -1.3
Josh Reddick RF L 301 0.303 109 -0.7
Tyler White 1B R 206 0.313 91 -0.4
Robinson Chirinos C R 242 0.28 127 -0.4

As previously mentioned, injuries have disrupted Houston’s 2019 path of dominance, but by and large this is now a lineup at nearly its full strength. George Springer has been typically destructive since his return from the IL, and José Altuve, who uncharacteristically struggled after his own return, seems to be back to his frustrating ways. The other thing that’s helped the Astros stay afloat is their seemingly endless well of minor league talent waiting in the wing, specifically Yordan Álvarez, who has been crushing the ball since his call up in early June. Álvarez has already launched seven home runs in 15 games, but he injured his knee this week and might miss this series.

Probable Pitchers

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Houston Astros Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

LHP Wade Miley

89 2/3 21.2% 7.9% 16.0% 51.4% 3.51 4.37
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 14.0% 91.0 2200 89 107 134
Sinker 7.0% 89.8 2052
Cutter 48.7% 87.5 2252 75 91 103
Changeup 17.9% 81.5 1860 145 144 88
Curveball 10.7% 76.4 2437 59 94 70
Slider 1.8% 82.0 2404
Stuff+ Explainer; Miley’s sinker and slider do not have large enough sample sizes for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

From the previous series preview:

One of the biggest reasons why the Astros didn’t try to re-sign Dallas Keuchel is because they were able to sign a replica for a pittance. Wade Miley completely reinvented himself with the Brewers last year, fully embracing some newfound contact management skills. He scrapped his slider in favor of a harder cutter and started throwing that pitch almost half the time at the expense of his mediocre fastball. With three pitches that induce contact on the ground more than half the time the batter puts the ball in play, he easily generated a career-high ground ball rate. Even more impressively, he allowed just three home runs all season long, holding opposing batters to just a .330 slugging percentage. The cutter itself isn’t all that notable from a stuff perspective. But he uses it like Marco Gonzales uses his cutter, busting it inside to right-handed batters to generate weak contact. That new pitch also helped his fastball play up since he didn’t have to rely on it as much. The Astros have had Miley lean even more into these changes he made last year and he might now be an even better contact manager than Keuchel himself.

RHP Justin Verlander

114 2/3 32.6% 5.1% 16.9% 34.6% 2.67 3.77
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 50.4% 94.9 2580 148 162 76
Changeup 4.8% 87.8 1825
Curveball 17.2% 79.7 2812 126 94 103
Slider 27.6% 87.9 2623 144 126 101
Verlander’s changeup does not have a large enough sample size for Stuff+ or Pitch Arsenal scores.

From the previous series preview:

Joining the Astros has helped Justin Verlander discover the fountain of youth. At 35 years old, he arguably posted his best season ever last year, setting career-bests in strikeout rate, walk rate, and FIP. He also allowed the highest fly ball rate of his career as his high-spin, “rising” fastball rose even further. Of course, with all those fly balls comes a pretty high home run rate as well. That seems to be his one weakness in his old age. But when you’re not walking anyone and allowing very few base hits, a few solo home runs don’t really hurt all that much. When he needs to generate weak contact, he can turn to either of his breaking balls. That boom or bust approach to pitching has helped him strand 91% of the runners that reach against him.

RHP Gerrit Cole

102 2/3 36.6% 6.5% 18.6% 40.3% 3.42 3.12
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 53.7% 97.2 2521 150 198 90
Changeup 5.7% 88.7 1738 125 138 61
Curveball 16.6% 82.2 2904 174 88 101
Slider 23.5% 89.3 2629 145 107 85

From the previous series preview:

If Justin Verlander hadn’t been a teammate, Gerrit Cole might have made a little more noise in the Cy Young race last year. Like his rotation-mate, he’s completely reinvented himself after joining the Astros. He scrapped his sinker, increased the spin rate on his four-seam fastball, and started throwing his breaking balls far more often. The result was a career-high strikeout rate ten points above his previous best. And like Verlander, leaning into his four-seam fastball resulted in a career-high fly ball rate. His breaking balls aren’t as good at inducing weak contact like Verlander’s. Instead, they’re whiff machines, both generating a swinging strike more than a third of the time a batter swings at them.

Cole has somehow improved upon his career-high strikeout rate from last year, boosting it up to 36.6%. He’s also cut his walk rate by a point and a half giving him the best strikeout-to-walk ratio of his career. But instead of completely dominating the American League, he’s been really hurt by the long ball. That’s pushed his ERA up to 3.42 even though his xFIP is well below 3.

The Big Picture:

AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 50-32 0.610 -- L-W-W-L-L
Rangers 45-36 0.556 4.5 W-W-W-W-W
Athletics 43-39 0.524 7.0 W-L-W-W-L
Angels 42-40 0.512 8.0 L-W-W-W-W
Mariners 37-48 0.435 14.5 L-W-W-W-L

2020 Draft Order

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Orioles 22-58 0.275 -- L-W-L-L-L
Tigers 26-50 0.342 5.5 L-L-L-L-L
Royals 28-53 0.346 6.0 L-W-L-W-L
Blue Jays 29-52 0.358 6.5 W-W-L-L-L
Marlins 30-49 0.380 8.5 W-W-L-L-L