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Series Preview: Mariners (75-62) at Astros (79-57)

The Mariners head to Houston for the last time this season.

MLB: Houston Astros at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t comfortable by any means, but the Mariners sweep of the Diamondbacks was pure Chaos Ball. It took two extra-innings victories and a pair of three-run bombs from Kyle Seager, but they took care of business in the desert. They’ve pushed ahead of Oakland in the standings and are actually just 4.5 games behind Houston. Taking the division is a pipe dream of course, but Seattle now has the ninth best record in the major leagues and a better record than the Braves and Padres, two teams in the National League currently holding playoff spots.

The Mariners have 75 wins in the bank and trail the Red Sox by three games. Let’s assume Boston goes 12-11 over their remaining 23 games — not a ridiculous assumption based on their schedule and the COVID issues wreaking havoc on their roster. That means the Mariners need to win 16 of their remaining 25 games to tie the Red Sox for the second Wild Card spot. Essentially that means they can afford just a single series loss for the rest of the season. That gives them a tiny bit of wiggle room as they head into what’s probably their hardest series of their remaining schedule.

At a Glance

Mariners Astros
Mariners Astros
Game 1 Monday, September 6 | 4:10 pm
LHP Yusei Kikuchi RHP Lance McCullers Jr.
38% 62%
Game 2 Tuesday, September 7 | 5:10 pm
RHP Logan Gilbert RHP Jake Odorizzi
40% 60%
Game 3 Wednesday, September 8 | 11:10 am
LHP Tyler Anderson RHP José Urquidy
38% 62%
*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Team Overview

Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 116 (1st in AL) 92 (13th in AL) Astros
Fielding (OAA) 40 (1st) 2 (9th) Astros
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 95 (5th) 110 (12th) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 103 (9th) 86 (3rd) Mariners

If there’s one thing that should give the Mariners a bit of hope, it’s that the Astros have continued to struggle a bit during the stretch run. After getting shut out twice in Seattle, they traveled to San Diego over the weekend and lost two of three, including a walk-off loss on Sunday afternoon. They scored a total of eleven runs in three games as their offensive struggles continued in Southern California. Of course, they also have the fifth best home record in baseball and crushed the Mariners the last time they visited Houston.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Jose Altuve 2B R 566 0.276 125 0.7
Michael Brantley LF L 477 0.339 128 -0.9
Alex Bregman 3B R 299 0.316 120 -2.6
Yordan Alvarez DH L 491 0.328 142 0.0
Yuli Gurriel 1B R 510 0.327 139 -1.1
Carlos Correa SS R 541 0.304 136 -0.8
Kyle Tucker RF L 461 0.288 137 1.6
Jake Meyers CF R 91 0.436 129 1.2
Martín Maldonado C R 361 0.228 70 -4.7

The Astros got Chas McCormick back from the Injured List last week and they’ve decided to platoon him and Jake Meyers in center field. They’re both right-handed so it won’t follow a traditional split of playing time. McCormick is probably the better hitter but Meyers is the more dynamic fielder and runner. They also signed Marwin Gonzalez after Boston cut him loose a week ago and called up old friend Jose Siri when rosters expanded. Yordan Alvarez tweaked his knee on Saturday while playing the outfield in San Diego; x-rays came back negative and he made a pinch-hit appearance on Sunday, but it’s possible he won’t be swinging at 100% during this series.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Lance McCullers Jr.

132 1/3 27.3% 11.2% 12.0% 55.7% 3.20 3.55
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 35.5% 93.8 2105 109 121 95
Cutter 1.5% 89.5 2530
Changeup 13.7% 85.8 1705 110 120 125
Curveball 21.7% 84.1 2898 141 106 101
Slider 27.6% 86.0 2779 117 99 74

From a previous series preview:

Remember a few years ago when Lance McCullers’s success was built on throwing his curveball nearly half the time? After missing the entire 2019 because of Tommy John surgery, his pitch mix has changed drastically. He’s throwing his curveball just 20% of the time now and he’s introduced a slider to his repertoire to give him another breaking ball to keep batters off balance. His strikeout rate is as good as ever because all four of his pitches are running whiff rates north of 30%. That’s just around league average or slightly above for his three secondary offerings but a 30% whiff rate on his sinker is elite. He’s struggled a bit with his command this season, but all those strikeouts and an above average groundball rate have helped him mitigate all those extra base runners.

This will be McCullers fourth start against the Mariners this season. He’s allowed six runs across 17 innings in those three starts. His last time out in Seattle, he went five scoreless innings, though he wasn’t that sharp. He allowed four hits and walked three while only striking out three.

RHP Jake Odorizzi

89 2/3 21.8% 8.2% 14.3% 37.4% 4.32 4.79
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 55.3% 92.2 2108 86 106 92
Cutter 8.8% 87.2 2065 66 87 71
Splitter 22.5% 84.7 1255 79 65 94
Curveball 4.4% 73.2 2083 70
Slider 9.0% 83.2 2027 100 60 83

From a previous series preview:

After signing with Houston in late March and getting off to a delayed start to the season, Jake Odorizzi hasn’t found the success he enjoyed in his breakout 2019 season in Minnesota. He looks a lot like the mid-rotation starter from his days with the Rays earlier in his career. His strikeout rate has fallen to its lowest point since an abbreviated cup of coffee back in 2013. And with a batted ball profile that skews heavily towards fly ball contact, a significant home run problem has resurfaced after he was able to get it under control as a Twin. The biggest issue in his pitch mix is a splitter that just isn’t running the same kinds of whiff rates he saw with it earlier in his career.

Odorizzi was the tough luck loser in his last outing in Seattle. He pitched into the sixth inning, leaving the game with two runners on. The winning run came around to score later on that inning and Odorizzi was saddled with the loss.

RHP José Urquidy

81 2/3 21.8% 4.4% 11.3% 31.2% 3.42 3.91
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 54.7% 92.5 2205 112 92 92
Changeup 18.0% 84.3 1887 115 95 111
Curveball 6.0% 76.7 2546 109
Slider 21.3% 79.3 2472 91 87 89

José Urquidy had been sidelined with a shoulder injury since late June before making his return from the Injured List against the Padres over the weekend. He threw 71 pitches and pitched into the fifth inning, allowing just two runs. Prior to his injury, he had been in the middle of a solid bounce back season after some COVID issues had derailed his sophomore campaign in 2020. An elite walk rate and a flyball-heavy batted ball profile has helped him post an ERA a half run below his FIP. His strikeout rate sits below average despite a good riding fastball and a trio of solid secondary offerings. This season, he’s dropped the usage of his curveball down to just 6% while bumping up the number of sliders in his pitch mix. That slurvy offering has produced better results than his slower curveball so optimizing its usage gives him a higher ceiling.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 79-57 0.581 -- L-L-W-L-L
Mariners 75-62 0.547 4.5 W-W-W-W-W
Athletics 74-63 0.540 5.5 L-W-L-L-L
Angels 68-69 0.496 11.5 W-L-W-W-L
Rangers 48-88 0.353 31.0 W-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Yankees 78-58 0.574 +0.5 L-W-W-L-L
Red Sox 79-60 0.568 -- W-W-W-W-L
Mariners 75-62 0.547 3.0 W-W-W-W-W
Blue Jays 73-62 0.541 4.0 L-W-W-W-W
Athletics 74-63 0.540 4.0 L-W-L-L-L

The A’s really fell apart against the Blue Jays over the weekend. On Friday, Marcus Semien blasted a three-run, walk-off home run against his former team. The next day, a five run ninth inning made the 10-8 final score a lot closer than it should have been. They were shutout 8-0 in the final game of the series on Sunday. They’ve won just six of their last 20 games and have finally fallen behind the Mariners in the standings. They return home on Tuesday to face the White Sox while the Blue Jays travel to New York to face the Yankees four times this week. New York lost their second series in a row to the Orioles over the weekend. The Red Sox won twice against Cleveland, with a walk-off win on Saturday securing the series; they host the Rays for three games to start the week.