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Series Preview: Mariners (54-46) vs. Astros (61-39)

The high-stakes homestand continues with the top dogs of the AL West

Texas Rangers v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Mariners made a statement in a weekend series win against the Athletics, defeating their kelly green-clad foes in three straight games after losing the opening game against a dominant Sean Manaea. They’ll now face a much tougher test against the division-leading Astros, with this series finishing up right before the July 30 trade deadline and largely determining whether the Mariners will be buyers or sellers at that deadline. To be the former, the Mariners need to prove they can hang with the big dogs of the division; they escaped Oakland with some good old chaos ball-infused one-run wins, but that likely won’t be enough to get them past the fearsome Astros. As Jake pointed out last week, in words true then and true now:

That’s a lot of pressure on a young team, but they’ve seemed like they’ve been up to the challenge ever since they swept the Rays at home in June.

From your mouth, Jake.

At a Glance

Astros Mariners
Astros Mariners
Game 1 Monday, July 26 | 7:10 pm
RHP Luis Garcia RHP Darren McCaughan
60% 40%
Game 2 Tuesday, July 27 | 7:10 pm
RHP Lance McCullers Jr. RHP Chris Flexen
59% 41%
Game 3 Wednesday, July 28 | 12:40 pm
RHP Jake Odorizzi LHP Yusei Kikuchi
56% 44%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 117 (1st in MLB) 90 (26th in MLB) HOU
Fielding (OAA) 20 (4th in MLB) -9 (20th in MLB) HOU
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 94 (4th in AL) 112 (11th in AL) HOU
Bullpen (FIP-) 105 (11th in AL) 85 (2nd in AL) SEA

The two best records in the AL since May 24th belong to the Astros (35-18) and the Mariners (33-20). Surprisingly, the Astros have been getting it done despite a team wRC+ of just 85 over the past month, although they’ve dialed that up to 98 over the past two weeks alone, although even that is a hair above the offensively-challenged Mariners, at 94. Part of the reason for that bump is Houston has been able to feed off the sun-bleached carcass of their in-state rivals, the utterly hapless Texas Rangers, whom Houston just swept, outscoring the Rangers 14-5 over a three-game series.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Jose Altuve 2B R 407 0.270 138 0.8
Michael Brantley LF L 338 0.353 141 -1.2
Yuli Gurriel 1B R 388 0.321 136 -1.0
Yordan Alvarez DH L 351 0.350 139 0.8
Carlos Correa SS R 392 0.300 135 -1.8
Kyle Tucker RF L 359 0.280 131 0.9
Abraham Toro 3B S 118 0.207 81 0.4
Myles Straw CF R 357 0.325 95 1.9
Martín Maldonado C R 261 0.236 63 -3.1

After some down years due to ineffectiveness or injury between the two of them, the one-two punch of José Altuve and Carlos Correa are back in full throat this year, with both of them ranking in the top 15 for production among position players in the game this season. Kyle Tucker is also a Top-50 player by fWAR, pairing his immense power with a stubborn refusal to strike out, and Yuli Gurriel and Yordan Álvarez also sneak into the Top 50, although the latter hasn’t been quite as luminous as his ROY campaign might have suggested, and he daily risks expulsion from the team for having a strikeout % in the 20s. Seriously, this team just does not strike out, and if the pitchers thought they were going to get any kind of a break from the horsefly-like A’s buzzing around the strike zone and spitting on borderline pitches, alas that is not the case.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Cleveland Indians v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

RHP Luis García

91 1/3 28.5% 7.9% 9.8% 36.5% 2.86 3.34
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 47.1% 93.4 2335 105 83 88
Cutter 20.5% 86.0 2359 83 178 121
Changeup 9.6% 83.2 1902 130 114 91
Curveball 9.2% 75.8 2235 94 136 103
Slider 13.6% 79.6 2381 87 127 158

The Astros have scouted very well out of Latin America in recent years, finding players other teams might have passed over for being too short (Altuve, famously) or too unknown/too old (Framber Valdez) and turning them into useful major-leaguers, and they’ve done it again with Luis García, signed out of Venezuela at the ripe old age of 20 and now looking like a potential ROY candidate. Fun. García has a five-pitch arsenal that includes a fastball that can hit up to 97 paired with a lower-90s cutter, a big hard-breaking curve, a slider, and a swing-and-miss changeup. He induces a ton of whiffs and profiles as a very tough matchup for a Mariners team that can have a tendency to strike out a lot.

RHP Lance McCullers

55 1/3 22.7% 8.0% 11.3% 38.3% 4.23 3.94
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 36.2% 93.6 2109 107 137 100
Cutter 2.0% 89.4 2598
Changeup 15.0% 85.6 1746 111 110 130
Curveball 19.3% 84.1 2878 130 100 92
Slider 27.5% 85.9 2771 116 101 91

Once again the Mariners will be facing a pitcher they didn’t see in their last matchup with Houston, although McCullers and his dastardly slider are old enemies of the Mariners. McCullers didn’t have a great outing against Cleveland in his last start, striking out eight in five innings but also allowing four earned runs, although three of those runs were inherited runners scoring. The outing before, McCullers struck out 10 against the White Sox while allowing just one run over six innings.

RHP Jake Odorizzi

55 1/3 22.7% 8.0% 11.3% 38.3% 4.23 3.94
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 57.4% 92.3 2117 87 105 100
Cutter 7.4% 88.2 2113 75
Splitter 21.3% 84.7 1249 78 70 95
Curveball 3.1% 73.2 2134
Slider 10.8% 83.4 2050 103 62 90

Jake Odorizzi will be the only one of these Astros pitchers the Mariners have seen this season; he almost missed his start last time around after leaving his previous start early with the always ominous-sounding forearm injury. Odorizzi might have wished he’d not made the start that day in April, though, as the Mariners handed him a loss after he gave up four runs in just four innings. Odorizzi somehow managed to avoid going through the Astros’ Magical Pitcher-Fixing Car Wash, as he’s been pretty much the same pitcher in Houston he always was, a contact-manager who doesn’t strike a ton of people out.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 61-39 0.610 -- W-L-W-W-W
Athletics 56-45 0.554 5.5 W-W-L-L-L
Mariners 54-46 0.540 7.0 L-L-W-W-W
Angels 49-49 0.500 11.0 L-W-L-W-W
Rangers 35-65 0.350 26.0 L-L-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rays 60-40 0.600 +4.5 W-W-W-W-L
Athletics 56-45 0.554 -- W-W-L-L-
Mariners 54-46 0.540 1.5 L-L-W-W-
Yankees 51-47 0.520 3.5 W-L-L-W-L
Blue Jays 49-46 0.516 4.0 L-L-L-W-L
Cleveland 49-48 0.505 5.0 W-L-L-L-W

The Astros are yet to lose a series coming out of the All-Star Break; the Rangers are yet to win a single game. The Angels won their first series after the ASB by taking a series from the reeling Twins, and will have a short respite against Colorado before a lengthy series against Oakland. The Yankees took just one game of a four-game set against Boston and then will have to contend with the Rays before getting a break against the Marlins and Orioles before the Mariners head to Yankee Stadium for the first time since 2019. The Blue Jays are cratering some lately, having lost the series against Boston followed by a series loss to the Mets, but should get a lift from getting to head back to the Rogers Centre to play in front of Toronto fans again for their next homestand, although they’ll have to get through another lengthy series against the Red Sox first. Keeping track of playoff positioning is exhausting, mentally and spiritually, but it is fun to get to be counting out the games like this.