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Series Preview: Mariners (7-13) at Astros (8-10)

The Mariners wrap up the Texas leg of their road trip with a three-game series in Houston.

San Francisco Giants v Houston Astros Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The bullpen will continue until morale improves. Parts of the Mariners really did enough to carry them to at least two wins in Texas, but unfortunately for them, Bryan Shaw and Erik Swanson stood up and shouted “NOT TODAY, DYLAN” in unison. Now the Mariners head to Houston, where the bizarro-world that is the 2020 MLB season means that they are both 1.5 games from prime Kumar position (thank you, Pirates, for winning a game) and 2.5 games from a playoff spot (thank you, very poor play by the AL West). MLB’s cancellations remain centered in the eastern half of the league somehow, and hopefully in another week or so we’ll be able to feel reasonably confident that the Mariners have managed their only trip to Texas all year without running into COVID problems of their own. Some small hope for that effort: as mentioned, neither Texas nor Houston has a positive test for a player in-season thus far.

At a Glance

Mariners Dodgers
Mariners Dodgers
Game 1 (in Los Angeles) Monday, August 17 | 6:40 pm
RHP Justin Dunn RHP Ross Stripling
29% 71%
Game 2 (in Los Angeles) Tuesday, August 18 | 4:10 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Tony Gonsolin
31% 69%
Game 3 (in Seattle) Wednesday, August 19 | 6:40 pm
RHP Taijuan Walker LHP Julio Urías
33% 67%
Game 4 (in Seattle) Thursday, August 20 | 4:10 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi LHP Clayton Kershaw
27% 73%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Dodgers Mariners Edge
Overview Dodgers Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 114 (3rd in NL) 85 (13th in AL) Dodgers
Fielding (DRS) 19 (1st) 0 (8th) Dodgers
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 105 (9th) 102 (6th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 61 (1st) 139 (15th) Dodgers

In a 162 game season, no one would even bat an eye at the Astros rolling out of the gate to an 8-10 start. Fortunately for the Astros, the absolute mess that is the Angels, Rangers, and Mariners means it would remain a true shock for them to miss the playoffs. Even so, their odds of winning the division have sunk to a mere 23% per FanGraphs. A middling rotation and a poor bullpen so far have handcuffed a good but not elite offense—and even after all this, the Astros have actually underperformed their Pythagorean W-L. And that pre-season 35 win projection from FanGraphs? It’s dropped to a paltry 31 wins now.

Their real problem has been a ridiculous number of injuries, particularly to their bullpen. They have nine pitchers currently on the Injured List, including their ace Justin Verlander and their closer Roberto Osuna. They’ve had to scrounge for healthy pitchers, reaching deep into their minor league depth. Half of their pitchers currently on their staff had no MLB service time prior to this season. Half! Some of those pitchers have made the transition to the majors well but most of them have struggled which is why their bullpen currently ranks 14th in the AL.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
George Springer CF R 61 0.176 105 -0.2
Jose Altuve 2B R 83 0.200 69 -0.5
Alex Bregman 3B R 85 0.246 139 -0.4
Michael Brantley LF L 64 0.326 133 -0.3
Yuli Gurriel 1B R 82 0.259 121 0.2
Carlos Correa SS R 76 0.426 155 -0.4
Yordan Alvarez DH L -- -- -- --
Josh Reddick RF L 72 0.340 122 -0.6
Martín Maldonado C R 55 0.292 118 -0.5

This lineup doesn’t get any easier over the years, does it? The Astros return SIX regulars in this lineup with a wRC+ of 132 or higher. Seattle’s best returning hitter, Tom Murphy, posted a 126 last year. And oh, don’t worry: those six regulars don’t include Yordan Alvarez (out with something undisclosed, 178 wRC+ last year) or Kyle Tucker, last year’s #10 prospect in baseball. What does that mean? After this season is underway, the Astros could well end up with a 1-8 set of hitters that produce somewhere north of a 140 wRC+ collectively—those top 8 players in 2019 posted a 148 wRC+, and they’re all back with the team. In all of baseball in 2019, 8 hitters posted a wRC+ higher than 148. I want to say that’s not likely, but they’re young, talented, and I wouldn’t bet against them. Anyway, these hitters will all be expensive in a few more yea—[breaks into muffled sobs].

As mentioned, the Astros haven’t produced to quite the degree you might expect thus far. A large part of that is the silent struggles of Jose Altuve, who has a 69 wRC+, and Kyle Tucker, who has gently banged his way to a mere 60. The Correa/Bregman/Brantley trio, meanwhile, has mauled pitching exactly as you’d expect them to. Oh, and the Astros just activated Yordan Alvarez from the Injured List this morning, just in time for this series.

Probable Pitchers

Stuff+ Explainer

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

RHP Ross Stripling

90 2/3 25.1% 5.4% 14.3% 50.2% 3.47 3.47
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 37.9% 90.6 2274 70 86 117
Changeup 15.4% 82.7 1584 119 114 101
Curveball 30.0% 79.8 2650 106 109 84
Slider 16.8% 86.3 2369 133 58 126
2019 stats

Framber Valdez possesses two of the three key skills to become a successful pitcher. His two secondary pitches generate excellent whiff rates and batters pound both his sinker and curveball into the ground over 60% of the time they make contact with those pitches. Whiffs and groundballs should be a great foundation for a solid pitcher and yet Valdez has posted an ugly 4.87 FIP across his two years in the majors. His big problem: he has no idea where his pitches are going leading to an outrageously high walk rate of 14.1%. In his three appearances this year, he’s managed to cut 10 points off that walk rate, down to 4.2%. The strikeouts and groundballs are still there and the result is a sterling 2.18 FIP. If he’s finally figured out how to command his arsenal, he’ll be a much needed infusion of talent to a depleted pitching staff.

RHP Tony Gonsolin

40 22.7% 9.2% 8.5% 41.7% 2.92 3.86
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 47.9% 93.6 2456 115 62 100
Splitter 25.1% 86.6 1998 103 110 88
Curveball 10.1% 80.5 2622 92 58 163
Slider 16.9% 88.0 2553 134 127 133
2019 stats

Cristian Javier is one of the Astros many top pitching prospects who has been called into action this season. An international amateur signed in 2014, he’s flown through Houston’s farm system, reaching Triple-A last year in his fifth professional season. He posted gaudy strikeout numbers in the minors, and even though his command is a bit spotty, batters simply couldn’t square up his pitches so his results have outpaced his peripherals. He has a full arsenal including four different secondary offerings and he uses them all well. He’ll pitch backwards, manipulate the shape of his breaking balls, double and triple up on his secondary pitches, and use his riding fastball to generate plenty of whiffs.

LHP Julio Urias

79 2/3 26.1% 8.3% 8.8% 38.7% 2.49 3.43
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 59.3% 95.1 2511 145 134 132
Changeup 16.7% 82.2 1855 153 113 108
Curveball 6.3% 77.3 2586 115 146 43
Slider 17.7% 84.6 2199 84 109 142
2019 stats

From a previous series preview:

Lance McCullers Jr. is back on the mound after recovering from Tommy John surgery. The last time he was on the field was in 2018. He’s still just 26 and the delayed start helped him fully recover for the start of the season. Possessing a deadly sinker/curveball combo, the usage of his changeup is something to monitor. He was using it much more often back in 2018 before his injury and it was generating a higher whiff rate than both of his other pitches. If he has a good feel for that pitch, it’s a third elite weapon he can use to avoid the trouble he’s had facing a lineup three times.

McCullers has struggled a bit in his return to the mound this year. His strikeout rate is sitting at a career low and his ugly 6.10 ERA sits more than a run higher than his 4.73 FIP. Neither is indicative of his true talent, but it’s likely he’s still finding the feel for his pitches after his long recovery process.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Athletics 16-6 0.727 -- L-W-W-W-W
Astros 11-10 0.524 4.5 L-W-W-W-W
Rangers 10-10 0.500 5.0 W-W-W-W-L
Angels 7-15 0.318 9.0 W-L-L-L-L
Mariners 7-16 0.304 9.5 L-L-L-L-L

Even with the Rangers putting a little space between themselves and Seattle, the non-A’s category of the AL West is tightly clustered together. Houston will look to take their turn using the Mariners to get a leg up in the playoff race, but the Rangers and Angels face significant tests of their own, traveling to face the Rockies and Dodgers, respectively.

2021 Draft Order

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Pirates 4-14 0.222 -- L-L-L-W-L
Red Sox 6-16 0.273 -- L-L-L-L-L
Mariners 7-16 0.304 0.5 L-L-L-L-L
Angels 7-15 0.318 1.0 W-L-L-L-L
Giants 8-15 0.348 1.5 W-L-L-L-L

And the draft order? Seattle sits a pretty third, trailing only Boston and Pittsburgh. Boston’s pitching staff is basically the [footage not found] screen from Arrested Development, but has enough oomph in their lineup that you may well expect them to eke past Seattle if the bullpen continues to bullpen all over the place. Pittsburgh? Well. Theoretically they have some talent, but at the rate this is going I will soon be starting a #FreeJoshBell campaign. Every game carries so much more import in this short season—Anaheim and Philadelphia are both a mere whisker behind Seattle for that third spot, so things can change on a dime any time.