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Astros remind the Mariners what they’re chasing

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Seattle gets a blunt lesson on how far they have to go.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Astros story is a well-told one, but one of the most important of our time in baseball. With the full support of the ownership, front office, and coaching staffs, they overhauled their training regimens and approaches to player development in a way that has helped them maximize more talent than nearly any other team in the league. They got rid of tees, implemented solely game-replicating batting practice, and a million other adjustments with full-throated enthusiasm. They were aided by a bucket of 1st round picks, the likes of which league rules no longer dole out to tanking teams. In 2017, they won the World Series, proving Sports Illustrated right and pushing the Lastros to a distant memory. With today’s 6-1 win they’re on pace for their third straight 100-win season, which is a testament to the talent their core has accrued.

But their next trick, as the Mariners saw today, may be yet to come. George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and Alex Bregman have formed the core of one of the millennium’s most dominant teams, but as Springer approaches free agency and Altuve ages, it will be incumbent on Houston to continue churning out stars from less than top-5 pick cloth. Today’s game was a grim reminder that that is no guarantee.

While baseball’s top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley and top-10 prospect OF Kyle Tucker were expected to make noise in the bigs this year, it’s been 1B Yordan Alvarez who has burst onto the scene first and loudest. In his first game back from a minor knee injury, Alvarez cleared the bases with a double in the bottom of the 1st put Houston ahead. He’d single again in the 3rd for another RBI. In the 5th he was robbed of a line drive double by Domingo Santana, and in the 7th, with two outs and a man on second, Seattle intentionally walked the 22-year-old behemoth rather than even let him hit. Jose Altuve joined in with three hits of his own, and Marco Gonzales struggled through an uncharacteristically wild outing to only make it through 5.0 innings.

That meant Seattle had to go to the bullpen early, and Mike Wright was unable to hold the line. A three-run 8th inning sealed things off for good, though Gerrit Cole was unsurprisingly untouchable for most of the afternoon. One of the greatest “Oh no, the Astros are going to make him so good” stories the moment the Pirates dealt him to Houston, all Cole has done is up his strikeout rate by 10-15% from his Pirates days without any decreased command, and establish himself as the heir apparent to teammate Justin Verlander in the “it’s the 7th inning why is he throwing 100 now” role. So long as Houston is able to maximize the potential of most players who join their organization, they will always be in the Mariners way.

The only run of the day came from Seattle’s brightest glimmer of hope - J.P. Crawford. In the second plate appearance of the day, J.P. unleashed the decent power he’s always had, catching up to a 96-mph heater at the top of the zone. It was beautiful.

It is hopefully part of the future we can expect, but the Astros will be there too.