This will not be as thorough as my writeup ahead of Game One, wherein I detailed how the Seattle Mariners would be likely to attack Justin Verlander. I was overjoyed, despite the ultimately gutting outcome, to see the M’s make such a stellar showing against JV, both to force Houston’s bullpen into extensive use and rattle the confidence of the Astros’ dominance. Now, though, the M’s are seeking to keep their fledgling playoff voyage seaworthy. They’ll turn to ace RHP Luis Castillo Thursday afternoon and rookie RHP George Kirby Saturday when they return home to Seattle. They represent the best chances at consecutive victories for the M’s to line up a possible clincher (or at least earn a Game Four for Sunday).
What makes Castillo and Kirby so enticing is a broad strokes consistency between the two pitchers. Both righties use a true mix of several pitches, work in above-average velocity ranges, and live in the strike zone. Not all aces need do each of these things, but only the slap-hitting Cleveland Guardians whiff less than the Astros, despite only one team - the Atlanta Braves - receiving a lower rate of pitches actually inside the strike zone. Unfortunately, much of Houston’s lineup actually has power, and in Minute Maid Park sometimes “power” can mean as little as “the ability to hit 310 foot popups to the right spot”.
Houston’s lineup, like that of the Toronto Blue Jays, is menacing, and Castillo is great and well-rested but he is being asked to once again shoulder a massive responsibility. The best things in his favor are straightforward: unlike Gilbert, Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen, or much of the M’s bullpen, the Astros have essentially never seen Castillo. His last outing against Houston came in 2019 (it was solid) when he was a different pitcher and when Houston’s lineup had a far different makeup. Additionally, Castillo’s velocity is a valuable asset, as only two cellar-dwelling teams - Detroit and Oakland - faced fewer pitches over 95 mph than the Astros, and Houston was merely middling against them compared to the league despite dominating in many other offensive categories.
If he can do what he did against Toronto, namely attack the shadow of the plate and its edges, forcing Houston to swing and giving them few free runners, he can keep Seattle in the game against their stellar southpaw Framber Valdez.
For Kirby, it’s a similar story, of lack of familiarity (just one start with Houston, for an intentionally brief four innings after the All-Star Break), a preternatural command of his repertoire, and a genuine six-pitch mix to keep the club infamous for their extensive cheating scheme guessing. Kirby’s flagging stamina down the stretch is of concern, as is his youth, his less dramatic wipeout pitches compared to Castillo, and the fact that it’s quite likely he could take the hill Saturday attempting to save the season.
But Kirby and Castillo both attack the edges of the zone, force swings on less than perfect pitches, and have the ability to avoid digging themselves massive holes. If the M’s are to pull a stunning upset in this series, it starts on the hill Thursday and Saturday afternoons.