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Series Preview: Mariners (13-9) at Astros (10-11)

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The Mariners continue a tough stretch in their schedule with a four-game series in Houston.

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

The Mariners head on down to Houston for a four-game set against an Astros team that has recovered from its COVID protocols-induced tailspin and is fresh off beating up the Angels over a four-game series. The Astros outscored the Angels 31-12 over their series win, with the big blow coming in a 16-2 victory on Saturday where the Astros refused to remove their cowboy boots from the necks of the floundering (yet Trout-less) Angels, tacking on three additional runs against position-player-pitching Anthony Bemboom. The Mariners are riding their own hot streak, however, taking a series split against the AL-East leading Red Sox to follow their series split against the world-leading LA Dodgers. The gauntlet continues in Houston this week and against the Angels this weekend.

At a Glance

Mariners Astros
Mariners Astros
Game 1 Monday, April 26 | 5:10 pm
LHP Justus Sheffield RHP José Urquidy
38% 62%
Game 2 Tuesday, April 27 | 5:10 pm
LHP Marco Gonzales RHP Cristian Javier
39% 61%
Game 3 Wednesday, April 28 | 5:10 pm
RHP Justin Dunn RHP Zack Greinke
36% 64%
Game 4 Thursday, April 29 | 11:10 am
LHP Yusei Kikuchi TBD
36% 64%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 100 (10th in AL) 91 (12th in AL) Astros
Fielding (DRS) 9 (7th) 14 (5th) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 98 (5th) 98 (4th) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 102 (9th) 132 (15th) Astros
2020 stats

What a difference having your good players makes. The Mariners and Astros were evenly split in advantages just a week ago; this time, the Astros definitively look like the better team on paper, aside from the Mariners’ improbably dominant bullpen. What’s annoying is the Mariners have actually played pretty good baseball over the last week. Going 3-3 against the two best teams in baseball right now is no small accomplishment. But the Astros have kept pace with every improvement — getting Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez back in the lineup was huge — and helped them shoot all the way up to second-best in wRC+ — not just in the AL, but in all of baseball.

Projected Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Carlos Correa SS R 221 0.324 98 -0.2
Michael Brantley LF L 187 0.336 135 -1.6
Alex Bregman 3B R 180 0.254 123 -0.5
Yordan Alvarez DH L 9 0.167 142 -0.1
Yuli Gurriel 1B R 230 0.235 79 0.3
Kyle Tucker RF L 228 0.303 126 3.2
Aledmys Díaz 2B R 59 0.256 97 0.3
Myles Straw CF R 86 0.283 40 1.0
Martín Maldonado C R 165 0.295 110 -2.2
2020 stats

The Astros lineup looks a lot different with Bregman and Alvarez back in their regular spots. After his positive COVID test a few weeks ago, Jose Altuve is back training with the team and there’s a possibility he’ll be activated from the injured list during this series. Since returning from their quarantine, Bregman has collected eight hits in six games while Alvarez has been a bit cooler with just four hits in five games.

Probable Pitchers

Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: APR 23 Angels at Astros Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

RHP José Urquidy

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
29 2/3 14.7% 6.9% 10.8% 35.6% 2.73 4.71
2020 stats; Urquidy did not accumulate enough innings for Stuff+ or pitch arsenal scores.

From a previous series preview:

José Urquidy had his own issues with COVID a year ago. A positive test prevented him from debuting until September and he wasn’t up to full strength after such a long layoff. He had to build up his arm strength from basically zero in the middle of the season and that really affected his ability to follow up a promising rookie season in 2019. His arsenal consists of a good, riding fastball and three solid secondary offerings. Each of his pitches possess phenomenal horizontal movement with his curveball also featuring a tremendous amount of drop. And despite all that movement, he can throw all four of his offerings with pinpoint command.

Last Friday, Urquidy held the Mariners to just two runs in five and two-thirds innings. He allowed five hits, two walks, and struck out seven.


RHP Cristian Javier

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
54 1/3 25.2% 8.4% 15.3% 29.0% 3.48 4.94
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 63.0% 92.2 2364 92 95 107
Changeup 7.2% 85.9 1938 72
Slider 25.5% 78.6 2594 71 92 141
2020 stats; Javier’s changeup did not have a large enough sample size for pitch arsenal scores.

Cristian Javier was one of the many Astros pitchers who made their debuts last year. He has quickly moved through Houston’s organization since he signed as an international amatuer in 2014. He’s allayed some of the concerns regarding his control by pounding the zone with his fastball in the majors. Batters have a hard time squaring that pitch up because it has exceptional ride, especially when it’s located up in the zone. He’ll pair his heater with a slow, slurvy slider that acts as both a breaking ball and a change of pace. His deep arsenal that he featured as a prospect has been honed down to those two pitches with an okay changeup and a curveball that might just be his slider thrown even slower rarely mixed in.


RHP Zack Greinke

IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
IP K% BB% HR/FB% GB% ERA FIP
67 24.5% 3.3% 9.2% 41.2% 4.03 2.80
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 40.9% 88.1 2329 43 70 79
Changeup 22.1% 86.2 1682 64 155 107
Curveball 15.3% 70.6 2428 92 82 145
Slider 16.1% 84.5 2422 119 62 106
2020 stats

From a previous series preview:

With Gerrit Cole in New York and Justin Verlander shelved due to Tommy John surgery, Zack Greinke is the lone stabilizing presence in the Astros rotation now. His durability and experience have helped him continue to post impressive numbers despite a pitch repertoire that has seriously deteriorated since his heyday with the Royals. His fastball velocity has now dropped to just 88 mph but impeccable command and a fantastic ability to sequence his pitches well has given him the tools to thrive deep into his 30s.

Grienke was brilliant last Saturday, holding the Mariners scoreless over eight innings. He allowed four scattered hits, walked no one, and struck out six.


TBD

Jake Odorizzi would have been scheduled to make the start on Thursday but he left his last start after getting just one out with an ominous forearm injury. The Astros haven’t announced a starter to replace him in the rotation, but it’s a good bet it’ll be Kent Emanuel. He came on in relief of Odorizzi and pitched the remaining eight and two-thirds innings in the game. He allowed just two runs on five hits and struck out five. His calling card is a sinking fastball that generates tons of ground ball contact. He didn’t strike out very many in his minor league career but the high ground ball rates and good command allowed him to find some success. The other option to take this spot in the rotation could be Luis Garcia, a lefty who has already made two starts this year.


The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Athletics 14-8 0.636 -- W-W-W-W-L
Mariners 13-9 0.591 1.0 L-L-W-W-L
Angels 10-10 0.500 3.0 L-L-L-L-W
Astros 10-11 0.476 3.5 L-W-W-W-L
Rangers 9-13 0.409 5.0 L-W-L-L-L

Oakland remains the class of the division, with their .636 winning percentage second-best in the AL behind [checks notes] Kansas City? Matthew truly is a genius. The unsinkable A’s 13-game winning streak finally came to an end on Sunday with a Baltimore beatdown, with the Orioles trouncing Oakland 8-1. The A’s will now face somewhat stiffer competition with a four-game set against Tampa Bay, then get another Baltimore break at home before entering a tougher stretch of their schedule, facing the Rays, Blue Jays, and Red Sox. The Angels will get a chance to lick their cowboy boot-inflicted wounds against the cellar-dwelling Rangers and try to climb back above .500 before heading to Seattle. Meanwhile, Houston will continue to try to climb out of their early-season tailspin and prove they still boss around the Mariners in the AL West, who are equally intent on proving there’s a new sheriff in town.