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Series Preview: Mariners (3-4) vs. Astros (4-2)

The Mariners celebrate their home opener against their biggest division rival.

Houston Astros v. Los Angeles Angels Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Happy home opener; happy Jackie Robinson Day; and welcome back to MLB in the PNW, TGIF (no chatspeak). The Seattle Mariners salvaged their weather-warped series in Chicago with a win Wednesday, giving them a slightly disappointing but defensible 3-4 record on the road against the two capable teams in the AL Central. Seattle’s reward for biting the bullet once again and enduring an early-spring trip to the Midwest? A home opener against the class of their division, the Houston Astros. The ‘Stros are fresh off a rest day Thursday, following a split two game set with the Arizona Diamondbacks and a general trouncing of the Angels to start the season. Seattle will look to give Houston their first series loss and secure their own first series win. There’s no reason to call a series make or break this early, nothing is after all. But this series continues an early season gauntlet that will test the Mariners ability to stick with the best teams in the AL.

At a Glance

Astros Mariners
Astros Mariners
Game 1 Friday, April 15 | 6:42 pm
RHP Jake Odorizzi LHP Marco Gonzales
52% 48%
Game 2 Saturday, April 16 | 6:10 pm
RHP Justin Verlander RHP Chris Flexen
58% 42%
Game 3 Sunday, April 17 | 1:10 pm
RHP José Urquidy RHP Matt Brash
49% 51%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 117 (1st in AL) 94 (10th in AL) Astros
Fielding (OAA) 36 (1st) -6 (8th) Astros
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 96 (6th) 111 (12th) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 99 (9th) 89 (4th) Mariners
2021 stats

Jake does not let me simply write “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” here so I will note what I did in Houston’s season preview a few weeks back: This is a beast of a club, and also the most vulnerable Astros roster in years. The lineup is a mixture of young stars and aging support pieces, simultaneously treacherous and teetering. The defense should remain stellar, with Carlos Correa’s Platinum Glove ceding way to well-reputed rookie Jeremy Peña and few other major departures. Yordan Alvarez remains a liability in left field, but otherwise Houston is hard to puncture in the field. The rotation is impressive, particularly given the return of Justin Verlander and the emergence of rookie Luis Garcia alongside young hurlers Framber Valdez and José Urquidy. Lacking Lance McCullers Jr. yet again, however, they are exceedingly thin, leaving much on their starters as the bullpen boasts a litany of question marks. The major names are solid, but not unimpeachable. Héctor Neris is a former closer with reason for the term former. Ryne Stanek seeks the strike zone but does not always find it. Ryan Pressly has long been a dominant force, yet his velocity has continued trending downwards, and with it his margin for error. It’s a microcosm for the Astros as a whole – an empire still the power of the region, yet in unequivocal decline. Will the slip come this year? Not if Kyle Tucker has anything to say about it.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Jose Altuve 2B R 678 0.280 130 2.5
Michael Brantley LF L 508 0.337 123 -1.2
Alex Bregman 3B R 400 0.286 115 -2.2
Yordan Alvarez DH L 598 0.320 138 0.5
Yuli Gurriel 1B R 605 0.336 134 -1.6
Kyle Tucker RF L 567 0.304 147 2.4
Jeremy Peña SS R 133 0.325 126
Chas McCormick CF R 320 0.341 109 -0.4
Martín Maldonado C R 426 0.221 63 -5.0
2021 stats; Peña’s stats from Triple-A

Eauxff. Yeah that lineup will still put a shiver down the spine. Most concerning of all for opposing teams is Alex Bregman’s return to dominance has taken no detours this spring. While Houston’s longtime star was significantly limited last year by injury, he put up merely above-average numbers. A return to true form would mean woe betides the AL West and the rest of the league. This lineup is the quintessence of an oldie but a goodie, stacked with veterans who can still hack it alongside young sluggers. Seattle can unequivocally swing with this club in a way realistically no lineup for the past several years could, but that is on paper, and this will be a genuinely massive first test at home.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

RHP Jake Odorizzi

104 2/3 20.6% 7.7% 11.6% 35.3% 4.21 4.48
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 55.2% 92.2 2113 89 109 95
Cutter 10.0% 86.8 2058 63 83 69
Splitter 22.0% 84.7 1260 70 69 88
Curveball 5.2% 73.5 2066 62 43 99
Slider 7.6% 83.1 2032 104 60 91
2021 stats

Jake Odorizzi has struggled through a wonky path through the middle of his career. A top prospect with the Rays to start, he never really put everything together in Tampa Bay. His big breakout came in Minnesota in 2019; he posted a career-high 27.1% strikeout rate that year and 4.3 fWAR. He was tagged with a qualifying offer that offseason and accepted it, returning to the Twins on a one-year deal. Unfortunately, injuries cost him most of the shortened 2020 season, making just four starts for Minnesota. He signed a two-year deal with the Astros late last spring but a handful of minor injuries again held him back from repeating the success he enjoyed in 2019. With a prototypical modern fastball with tons of carry, he’s been a bit homer prone in his career. His secondary offerings are all inconsistent at best, making him overly reliant on his heater.

RHP Justin Verlander

223 35.4% 5.0% 16.0% 35.9% 2.58 3.27
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 49.9% 94.6 2577 161 146 91
Changeup 4.2% 86.9 1866 81 111 141
Curveball 17.3% 79.4 2821 117 82 94
Slider 28.7% 87.5 2612 133 114 108
2019 stats

At 39 years old, Justin Verlander is attempting to do something nearly unprecedented in major league history: successfully return from elbow surgery at an extremely advanced age. He made one start in 2020 before succumbing to Tommy John surgery; it was just the second major injury of his career and he became the second oldest starter to ever undergo the procedure. He had thrown more than 200 innings in every season of his career except two up to that point. During the offseason, the Astros signed him to a one-year, $25 million deal with a player option for 2023. The Astros clearly expect him to pick up right where he left off. Whether or not that will come to pass is a little more murky. His fastball sat right under 95 mph in his first start this season as he held the Angels to just one run in five innings of work.

RHP José Urquidy

107 21.3% 4.5% 12.1% 32.2% 3.62 4.14
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 54.9% 92.5 2213 110 93 95
Changeup 18.2% 84.4 1913 104 110 108
Curveball 7.4% 77.2 2571 114 73 68
Slider 19.5% 79.3 2487 90 96 88
2021 stats

José Urquidy has always shown a ton of promise with a solid four-pitch arsenal, but has struggled to put everything together in a full season. Injuries have certainly played a part in that, but he’s also failed to maximize all of his strengths to rack up strikeouts. During his debut season in 2019, both his curveball and slider ran whiff rates north of 40%. Neither pitch has reached those lofty levels since then and it’s a big reason why his strikeout rate hasn’t come close to matching the 24% he posted during that first season. He does possess phenomenal control, so even if he’s not K’ing batters, he’s still keeping them from taking free passes. That’s critical to his success because can also be pretty homer-prone.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 4-2 0.667 -- W-L-W-W-L
Athletics 4-3 0.571 0.5 W-W-L-W-W
Mariners 3-4 0.429 1.5 L-L-L-L-W
Angels 3-4 0.429 1.5 W-L-W-W-L
Rangers 2-4 0.333 2.0 L-W-L-L-W

Somehow, the A’s managed to win three of four against the Rays this week and their one loss was in extra innings. They’ll try and take down another AL East juggernaut this weekend in Toronto. The Angels swept a short two-game set against the Marlins earlier this week but were pummeled by the Rangers in the first game of a four-game series this weekend. Texas had been swept by the Rockies in a two-game series earlier in the week.