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Warp Drive Engage: Astros (102-54) vs. Mariners (66-90)

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The Astros come to town for a two-game tuneup as they prepare for a deep playoff run.

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros
Evil lurks in the darkness. So does a high-speed camera.
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The final week of the season makes strange sched-fellows. The Mariners were mathematically eliminated less than two weeks ago, but spiritually have been out of it since November of 2018. The Astros knew they would win the division since nearly the same time, and have used the last several months as a whetstone for their playoff hopes. Baseball does itself a disservice by not promoting a regular season trophy of some sort, because the race between the Astros and Yankees for the American League’s best record (and, likely, MLB’s best record) is the only serious competition Houston has faced all year.

At a Glance

Athletics Mariners
Athletics Mariners
Game 1 Thursday, September 26 | 7:10 pm
LHP Sean Manaea RHP Félix Hernández
64% 36%
Game 2 Friday, September 27 | 7:10 pm
RHP Mike Fiers LHP Justus Sheffield
60% 40%
Game 3 Saturday, September 28 | 7:10 pm
LHP Brett Anderson LHP Marco Gonzales
56% 44%
Game 2 Sunday, September 29 | 12:10 pm
RHP Tanner Roark RHP Justin Dunn
58% 42%

Team Overview

Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Overview Athletics Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 108 (4th in AL) 99 (7th in AL) Athletics
Fielding (DRS) 34 (4th) -90 (14th) Athletics
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 103 (9th) 113 (13th) Athletics
Bullpen (FIP-) 90 (5th) 109 (14th) Athletics

Houston has handled Seattle particularly brutally this year, to the tune of a 16-1 record thus far that would represent the worst ever by the Mariners against a divisional opponent since the advent of the five-team division structure. A victory in either game would allow the Mariners to avoid tying the 2019 Tigers for the worst record in MLB history in such a context, as Detroit went 1-18 against Cleveland this year. Unfortunately, things don’t look like they’ll be getting much easier in this two-pack. It’s not so much that the Astros outpace the Mariners as that they are nearly not playing the same sport. Only a slightly shaky bullpen has kept Houston from a 110-win pace, but even there they’ve been merely above-average. Houston’s playoff matchup will be against either the winner of the AL Central - likely the Twins - or the AL Wild Card, which will likely be one of Cleveland, Oakland, or Tampa Bay. In any scenario, they will be frightful to behold.

Projected Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Marcus Semien SS R 732 0.300 138 1.6
Matt Chapman 3B R 656 0.267 123 0.2
Matt Olson 1B L 534 0.301 135 -0.3
Mark Canha CF R 489 0.311 148 -1.3
Ramón Laureano RF R 468 0.347 128 4.9
Khris Davis DH R 523 0.263 81 -1.9
Chad Pinder LF L 359 0.280 85 -1.6
Sean Murphy C R 49 0.308 160 1.0
Jurickson Profar 2B S 508 0.217 88 1.7

Hah, look at how lousy Josh Reddick has been! What a joke! Ahhhh anyways this is terrifying. George Springer is having the best season of his career. So is Alex Bregman, who was a 7+ win player last year. Carlos Correa missed nearly half the season, but by rate performance he too is in the midst of a career year. José Altuve remains an All-Star caliber performer. Michael Brantley is healthy which means he too is excellent. Yordan Alvarez is literally doing what Kyle Lewis has done but over half a season. Only arbitration salaries and pitching injuries/inconsistency can hold Houston back, and right now they are unrestrained.

Probable Pitchers

Detroit Tigers v Houston Astros
and two zig zags
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

LHP Sean Manaea

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
23 2/3 28.1% 7.9% 10.7% 36.4% 1.14 3.90

Heading into free agency, Gerrit Cole continues to post what seems certain to be his best season ever. Already at 6.8 fWAR, his much-published boost from coming to the Astros has taken firm hold, and he has turned into an absolute monster for them. Always a guy with decent strikeout numbers, Cole now has the best K/9 among qualified starters in the majors, and it’s not all that close. He’s a top-5 pitcher in baseball, and this winter, he’ll be paid like it. He’s earned it.

From the Orioles rotation of no-names to two of the most famous pitchers in the league. Cole’s final start of the regular season will be the cherry on top of an utterly dominating season. He should secure the AL Cy Young award, though teammate Justin Verlander will give him a run for his money. Despite being bitten by the home run bug more often than most, Cole has become the ace of aces scouts hoped he might become when taken with the first overall pick of the 2011 draft.

RHP Mike Fiers

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
179 2/3 16.6% 7.0% 14.2% 39.3% 3.91 5.04
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 31.6% 90.9 2322 65 96 105
Sinker 20.2% 90.5 2257 57 75 109
Changeup 12.3% 84.4 1936 79 56 102
Curveball 17.3% 74.3 2780 78 95 109
Slider 18.5% 86.2 2483 122 58 95

Zack Greinke hasn’t had the dramatic shift in effectiveness Cole did since his acquisition, but his results have been more than agreeable. Pitching in front of one of the league’s best defenses makes Greinke’s more contact-oriented approach thoroughly effective, albeit less overwhelming than Cole or Verlander. Greinke’s last start of the season should line him up to be the most overqualified No. 3 starter in baseball when the ALDS rolls around.

AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 104-54 0.658 -- W-L-W-W-W
Athletics 95-63 0.601 9.0 W-W-L-L-W
Rangers 75-83 0.475 29.0 L-L-W-L-L
Angels 71-87 0.449 33.0 L-W-L-W-L
Mariners 66-92 0.418 38.0 L-W-L-L-L

AL Wild Card

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Athletics 95-63 0.601 +0.5 W-W-L-L-W
Rays 95-64 0.597 -- W-L-W-W-W
Cleveland 93-65 0.589 1.5 W-L-W-W-L

All of a sudden, the AL Wild Card is only remaining exciting playoff race. With the Cubs utterly collapsing and the Mets blowing their first must-win near-freebie against the Marlins, the NL Wild Card is just a couple Brewers wins from resolution, with the Nationals and Milwaukee merely jockeying for home-field privilege in the one-game playoff. In the AL, however, three teams are in or within half a game of the Wild Card. Oakland finishes with six on the road - two at Anaheim before a four-gamer in Seattle. Tampa has just five remaining, hosting two against the Yankees before three in Toronto to close out. Cleveland has six road games, though three come against the mediocre White Sox and their final trio is with the Nationals, who may rest their starters having determined where they’ll stand in the final game or two.

2020 Draft Order

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Tigers 46-111 0.293 -- L-L-W-L-L
Orioles 52-107 0.327 5.0 L-W-L-W-L
Marlins 55-103 0.348 8.5 L-W-W-L-L
Royals 58-101 0.365 11.0 L-W-L-W-L
Blue Jays 65-94 0.409 18.0 L-L-W-L-W
Mariners 66-92 0.418 19.5 L-W-L-L-L
Pirates 67-91 0.424 20.5 L-L-L-W-W
Rockies 68-90 0.430 21.5 L-W-L-W-L
White Sox 69-88 0.439 23.0 W-W-L-L-W
Padres 70-88 0.443 23.5 L-L-W-L-L

In the home stretch here, things have gotten spicy. Seattle’s sweep of the Pirates lingers, as the dejected Bucs seem unlikely to mount a resurgence despite facing a reeling Cubs club and the woebegone Reds in their last six games. The Rockies sit a game ahead of Seattle, yet they too have an uncertain slate with three at the Giants before hosting the competing Brewers. On the other end, the plucky Blue Jays have two more tilts with the Orioles before the aforementioned Rays series. As Seattle will be hard-pressed to pull something better than a 2-4 finish out, Toronto sneaking ahead of the M’s and pushing the Mariners back to the 6th pick is not out of the question.

We’ve added a few more draft previews in the past week - Florida State RHP CJ Van Eyk and HS OF Austin Hendrick! Go give them a look and develop outsized attachments to players who assuredly will end up somewhere else like we have.