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Kneel Before Zod - Mariners (47-64) vs. Astros (70-40) Series Preview

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The Mariners are the first to get a full series with the league’s fortified juggernaut.

Astros Mustache

Two teams with vastly different trade deadlines will test their new tricks this weekend. The Mariners had a predictably active final hour, but having made most of their moves this offseason, with injuries limiting the interest in other key players, the moves they made were obvious ones. Mike Leake to Arizona, Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland to the Nationals. Meanwhile, Houston appeared content to sit on their laurels and coast to another AL West title, moving catcher Max Stassi to the wayward Angels for a bit of minors depth and adding a couple arms from the Blue Jays. Then, in a classic display of brinksmanship, the news rolled in: future Hall of Famer Zack Greinke was headed to Houston, joining Cooperstown-bound rotation-mate Justin Verlander and Cy Young favorite Gerrit Cole in a monstrous triumvirate.

Seattle won’t face Greinke this weekend, but they will see Verlander, as well as new rotation member (for now) Aaron Sanchez. Seattle may bring some hot hitting into this series, but it’s a daunting matchup any way you slice it.

At A Glance

Mariners Astros
Mariners Astros
Game 1 Friday, August 2 | 5:10 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi LHP Wade Miley
31% 69%
Game 2 Saturday, August 3 | 4:10 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Aaron Sanchez
41% 59%
Game 3 Sunday, August 4 | 11:10 am
LHP Tommy Milone RHP Justin Verlander
27% 73%

Team Overview

Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 120 (1st) 107 (6th in AL) Astros
Fielding (DRS) 74 (1st) -62 (14th) Astros
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 90 (4th) 114 (13th) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 93 (7th) 113 (14th) Astros

As if their incredible offense and overwhelming rotation weren’t enough, Houston also boasts what grades as the best defense in the American League. Seattle has had some good offensive games against the Stros, but it’s a tall order this weekend, especially for an inconsistent Yusei Kikuchi and Tommy Milone.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
George Springer RF R 355 0.297 156 1.3
José Altuve 2B R 326 0.317 138 -1.1
Michael Brantley LF L 447 0.329 140 -0.2
Alex Bregman 3B R 473 0.248 149 -1.1
Yordan Álvarez DH L 160 0.395 186 -0.4
Carlos Correa SS R 240 0.329 136 -1.2
Yuli Gurriel 1B R 438 0.291 124 -2.2
Jake Marisnick CF R 226 0.323 101 1.3
Robinson Chirinos C R 320 0.302 118 -1.2

Your eyes do not deceive you - every single one of Houston’s hitters has been above-average or better this year. Seattle’s best hitter this year - Daniel Vogelbach - has a 133 wRC+, which would place him 7th in this lineup’s pecking order. The stars are stellar, of course, but they’ve also managed to get career-best numbers out of Yuli Gurriel, Jake Marisnick, and Robinson Chirinos. George Springer is hitting like the monster his minor league numbers foretold he might be. So is Yordan Alvarez, just, immediately. José Altuve is back to All-Star caliber performance. It’s unending and terrifying.

Probable Pitchers

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

LHP Wade Miley

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
126 2/3 20.5% 7.7% 15.0% 53.3% 3.06 4.34
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 15.4% 91.2 2208 93 122 130
Sinker 6.1% 89.7 2046 72 91 54
Cutter 48.2% 87.5 2250 74 86 106
Changeup 19.0% 81.4 1861 151 135 97
Curveball 10.0% 76.0 2433 54 91 70
Slider 1.3% 82.0 2404

Stuff+ Explainer:

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.

Miley has seemingly found a useful combination of the contact management skills developed last year with a strikeout rate in line with what he was posting before. There was no way he was going to be able to replicate the miniscule home run rate from last year. Indeed, he’s allowed at least one home run in all but two of his starts. But because he isn’t allowing very many baserunners, all those additional dingers haven’t really hurt him that much.

RHP Aaron Sanchez

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
112 2/3 18.9% 11.3% 14.7% 47.0% 6.07 5.03
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 21.3% 94.3 2287 121 120 99
Sinker 37.0% 94.2 2250 126 91 113
Changeup 19.6% 88.7 1815 67 72 108
Curveball 22.1% 78.9 2875 110 119 102

This could all quite easily get chucked out the window as Aaron Sanchez makes his first start with a new club renowned for transforming pitchers they acquire into new versions of themselves. Still, that usually doesn’t happen overnight, meaning Sanchez will have to make do with his four-pitch mix. The 27-year-old had a challenging time this year, and his stellar 2016 seems distant in the rear-view. Healthy again, his 94+ mph fastballs are promising, but despite excellent grades on Stuff+ for both pitches, as well as a good breaking ball, he’s had fairly lousy results. Part of that may be due to pitching on turf half the time, as well as pitching in front of a terrible Blue Jays defense, but look for Sanchez to perhaps scrap or alter his changeup. The pitch has made few hitters miss, and it’s a bit firm for his fastball. It’s all compounded for the worst ERA of any qualified starter this year, but even purely in the shift of who is on defense that should improve.

RHP Justin Verlander

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
151 2/3 33.7% 5.3% 17.3% 34.7% 2.73 3.73
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 50.7% 94.9 2577 155 166 85
Changeup 4.30% 87.5 1819
Curveball 17.1% 79.6 2814 113 90 99
Slider 27.9% 87.8 2614 140 119 101

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.

Verlander remains unyielding. A staggering .199 BABIP against suggests a fairly lucky series of breaks, as well as a career-high HR/FB%. That’s backed up by an ERA a full run lower than his FIP, but DRA likes Verlander even more than ERA. No matter how you measure it, hitters hate it.

The Big Picture

AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 70-40 0.636 -- W-W-W-L-W
Athletics 62-48 0.564 8.0 W-W-W-L-W
Angels 56-54 0.509 14.0 L-W-L-W-L
Rangers 54-54 0.500 15.0 W-L-L-L-W
Mariners 47-64 0.423 23.5 W-W-W-W-L

AL Wild Card

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Cleveland 63-45 0.583 +1.5 W-L-L-W-L
Rays 63-48 0.568 -- L-W-W-W-W
Athletics 62-48 0.564 0.5 W-W-W-L-W
Red Sox 59-51 0.536 3.5 W-L-L-L-L
Angels 56-54 0.509 6.5 L-W-L-W-L

The Athletics and Astros both took care of business on their Midwest road trips, with Houston handling Cleveland and the A’s taking the series from the Brewers. The Angels were less fortunate, losing two of three to the Tigers club Seattle swept last week, rounding out a 2-5 homestand against Detroit and Baltimore. Texas took a surprisingly middle-ground path at the deadline, and they’ll retain both Mike Minor and their Cy Young contender Lance Lynn this year as they get their own crack at the Tigers.

In the Wild Card hunt, things look grim for Boston and Anaheim. The Red Sox have more than enough talent to claw back in the playoffs and defend their title, but they sat out the deadline while the Rays and A’s improved, and Cleveland... made a lot of good moves but ones that may be a net neutral for them in 2019. Anaheim and Cleveland face off in a series that could either reinvigorate or fully scuttle the Angels. Oakland enjoys a rare Friday off before a two game weekender with the Cardinals, while the Rays, fresh off sweeping Boston, will try to separate themselves with a couple games against Miami and three more with Toronto.

2020 Draft Order

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Tigers 32-72 0.308 -- L-L-W-L-W
Orioles 36-72 0.333 2.0 W-L-L-W-L
Royals 40-70 0.364 5.0 L-W-L-L-L
Marlins 42-65 0.393 8.5 W-W-L-L-W
Blue Jays 44-67 0.396 8.5 L-W-W-W-W
Mariners 47-64 0.423 11.5 W-W-W-W-L
White Sox 46-60 0.434 13.0 W-L-L-L-L
Pirates 47-61 0.435 13.0 L-L-L-W-L
Rockies 50-59 0.459 15.5 L-L-W-L-L
Padres 50-57 0.467 19.5 W-L-W-L-L

That winning streak only put the Mariners a few games closer to the Pirates and White Sox, but returning to Houston should fix that right up. Still in the 6th overall spot, there’s a sizable gap remaining between the M’s and the Blue Jays/Marlins that they will likely struggle to sink to.