Deep breaths. Here we go.
When the Rays failed themselves into the third Wild Card spot, I was annoyed at what felt like gamesmanship to avoid a tough slate of traveling to Toronto and then having to face a well-rested Houston team. But the Rays then failed themselves right out of the playoffs, carrying over their weak offensive performance into a two-game sweep at the hands of the Guardians, while the Mariners went to Toronto and put up the most exciting Wild Card game of the whole weekend—no disrespect to the specter of umpires tenderly massaging Joe Musgrove’s ear, en route to a two-game sweep that it’s fair to say no one in the baseball world, save our beating little Northwest-green heart of the country over here, saw coming. (To be honest: even as Mariners fans, we were nervous.)
Now the task is much tougher and the road to advance much steeper, but Mariners fans are starting to learn first-hand what they mean when they say playoff baseball is different. The Mariners will have to hope for different results against Justin Verlander, who has owned them like he has both Boardwalk and Park Place with hotels, and the Mariners hitters keep landing there.
For a more birds’-eye view of the series, including the expected starters for the next few games, check out our series preview.
You thought the Blue Jays’ lineup was terrifying? Meet the Astros, again. Peña has rebounded from a tough stretch, and obviously you know those other guys. Altuve, after a slow start, is having his best year since 2017. Yordan Álvarez has begun enacting the final stage of his plan for revenge after a baseball staged a hostile takeover of his family business. Kyle Tucker has rebounded from a meh start to be literally exactly the same player he was last year. Things do fall off after that—Gurriel is finally starting to show his age, Mancini hasn’t been stellar since being acquired in trade, and the Astros are still trying to find a long-term solution at center field and catcher, opting to prize the glove of Maldonado over his bat (which seems, annoyingly, to heat up against the Mariners and only the Mariners). But that top slate of players is powerful enough that, with Verlander, all they need is a few runs and to let the eventual 2022 Cy Young do the rest.
The Mariners will be running out essentially the same lineup from their Wild Card games, which includes Cal Raleigh hitting cleanup, a sentence that delights me to no end to type. It’s a different look to the lineup than the Astros saw earlier this season, with Raleigh hitting at the top rather than mired at the bottom, plus a returned and healthy Mitch Haniger hitting behind him. That’s a much stronger 1-5, and really, 1-6, as the Astros only saw Carlos Santana as a Mariner for a couple of series in July. A lot of today’s game will depend on the bottom of the lineup being able to turn things over for the top of the lineup to get more shots against Verlander.
Game time: 12:37 PT
Radio: 710 Seattle Sports
PSA: Thanks to Joe Veyera over on Twitter, who listed out a plethora of options for those of you who are wondering how to watch the game while we are all at work/school/childcare duties/our lighthouses perched high on rocky windswept shores/etc. There are several options for free trials for streaming services you could sign up for and watch at least the games that happen during the week, and you can find links in Joe’s thread. If you do opt for Sling TV as your streaming service of choice, we would appreciate it if you would use the link available in our handy little sidebar here, as we get a little of that sweet sweet referral link cash for that.