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Series Preview: Mariners (51-42) vs. Astros (61-32)

The Mariners start off the second half of the season with a three-game series against the Astros.

MLB: Game Two-New York Yankees at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The excitement surrounding the Mariners is higher than it’s been all season long. A 14-game win streak put the team on the national radar as they rolled into the All-Star break, and then Julio Rodríguez captured everyone’s attention at the Home Run Derby, nearly walking away with the trophy. Seattle has the best record in baseball over the past month and they’re currently holding the second AL Wild Card position. It’s hard to imagine a better end to the first half of the season, especially after they were all but left for dead after a lackluster May and June. They’ll look to carry their red hot play into the second half of the season with a three-game series against one of the best teams in baseball.

At a Glance

Astros Mariners
Astros Mariners
Game 1 Friday, July 22 | 7:10 pm
RHP José Urquidy LHP Marco Gonzales
51% 49%
Game 2 Saturday, July 23 | 1:10 pm
RHP Justin Verlander RHP Logan Gilbert
54% 46%
Game 3 Sunday, July 24 | 1:10 pm
LHP Framber Valdez LHP Robbie Ray
51% 49%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 113 (2nd in AL) 108 (5th in AL) Astros
Fielding (OAA) 20 (1st) 7 (5th) Astros
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 92 (2nd) 109 (12th) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 81 (2nd) 97 (6th) Astros

The danger the Mariners face this weekend is not unlike the myth of Icarus. They’re flying as high as they possibly could and fans who are familiar with the team’s recent history in circumstances such as these know that the sun burns brightly. Memories of Lollablueza and Deadgar weekends still haunt us. With plenty of people still questioning whether or not the Mariners are for real after their win streak, facing the Astros will be an opportunity to prove that they can hang with the best teams in the league.

The Astros wrapped up the first half of the season on a bit of a down note, losing two of three to the A’s the weekend before the All-Star break. That was clearly a fluke since they started off the second half of the season with a two-game sweep of the Yankees in a doubleheader yesterday. Yordan Alvarez was activated off the IL after resting for a couple weeks with some hand inflammation and picked up right where he left off by blasting a home run in the second game yesterday. New York did force Houston to burn through a bunch of their high-leverage relievers in the first game and Ryan Pressly is currently absent to be present for the birth of his child. After flying cross-country after their doubleheader, they’re bound to be feeling a little fatigued.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Jose Altuve 2B R 331 0.279 151 -3.5
Jeremy Peña SS R 293 0.307 117 1.1
Yordan Alvarez DH L 321 0.303 200 -1.4
Alex Bregman 3B R 382 0.252 128 -0.9
Kyle Tucker RF L 354 0.255 134 1.7
Yuli Gurriel 1B R 329 0.254 93 -1.1
Chas McCormick LF R 227 0.268 110 -0.8
Jake Meyers CF R 80 0.340 82 -0.6
Martín Maldonado C R 236 0.202 62 -2.4

Though they’ve been relatively healthy this season, the Astros haven’t been immune to the attrition every club suffers through each season. Michael Brantley has been sidelined with a concerning shoulder injury that hasn’t been clearly diagnosed since being placed on the IL in late-June. In his place, Chas McCormick and Jake Meyers have been patrolling the outfield for the Astros. Both made their debuts last year and the latter only recently returned from his own shoulder injury that held him out for the first three months of the season. The former looks like he’s made some key adjustments in his sophomore season; his strikeout rate has fallen by more than eight points and his walk rate is up by nearly three points.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

RHP José Urquidy

94 2/3 18.5% 5.0% 11.3% 35.0% 4.09 4.44
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 54.2% 93.6 2191 124 88 87
Cutter 8.5% 87.4 2508 95 124 113
Changeup 15.7% 86.1 1966 103 87 138
Curveball 12.4% 77.5 2614 120 85 64
Slider 9.2% 79.8 2581 87 67 97

From a previous series preview:

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 Mariners have really roughed up Urquidy this year; in three starts against Seattle, he’s allowed 17 runs to score and hasn’t been able to escape the fifth inning in any of them.

RHP Justin Verlander

109 1/3 25.6% 4.5% 9.6% 39.1% 1.89 3.07
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 49.8% 94.9 2416 154 72 111
Changeup 1.9% 86.0 1772
Curveball 18.5% 78.8 2620 105 94 107
Slider 29.8% 87.4 2456 137 103 124

From a previous series preview:

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.

Justin Verlander continues to defy Father Time, leading the majors in wins and holding his opponents to one run or less in 12 of his 17 starts. One thing to monitor is the effectiveness of his fastball. That pitch’s whiff rate has fallen below league average for the first time in the Statcast era. His strikeout rate, while still good, has dropped 10 points from the career-high 35.4% he posted in 2019.

LHP Framber Valdez

115 21.7% 9.1% 13.3% 67.2% 2.66 3.32
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 4.6% 94.1 2197 62
Sinker 50.6% 94.0 2206 136 82 84
Cutter 7.3% 83.7 2687 67 150 128
Changeup 9.3% 89.0 1616 68 63 101
Curveball 28.2% 79.1 2848 121 129 131

Framber Valdez made a significant adjustment to his approach in 2020, filling the strike zone with his pitches to combat his lackluster command. His walk rate dropped to 5.6% that year, though it hasn’t been that low since. He’s pitching in the zone higher than ever before this year, though his walk rate is a little bit worse than league average. Instead, it’s meant that batters are putting the ball in play off him at a higher rate, which for Valdez is a pretty good outcome. More than two-thirds of the ball batters put in play off his pitches are on the ground, easily the highest groundball rate in the majors and close to a historic high. With a phenomenal defensive infield behind him, all that weak groundball contact has resulted in a fantastic season for the 28-year-old.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 61-32 0.656 -- L-W-L-W-W
Mariners 51-42 0.548 10.0 W-W-W-W-W
Rangers 42-49 0.462 18.0 L-L-L-L-W
Angels 39-53 0.424 21.5 L-W-L-L-L
Athletics 33-62 0.347 29.0 W-L-W-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rays 51-41 0.554 +1.5 W-W-W-L-W
Mariners 51-42 0.548 +1.0 W-W-W-W-W
Blue Jays 50-43 0.538 -- W-L-W-W-W
Red Sox 48-45 0.516 2.0 L-L-W-L-L
Guardians 46-44 0.511 2.5 L-L-W-W-W
Orioles 46-46 0.500 3.5 W-W-L-W-L
White Sox 46-46 0.500 3.5 W-W-W-L-W

After ending the first half with a sweep at the hands of the Mariners, the Rangers started off the second half on a high note, beating the Marlins 8-0 yesterday. After that one-off game, they’ll head to Oakland this weekend for a three-game series. The Angels are in Atlanta this weekend to face one of the best teams in the National League.

The Rays put together a little hot streak heading into the All-Star break, sweeping the Red Sox in four and winning two of three against the Orioles. They kick-off the second half with a three-game series in Kansas City. The Blue Jays and Red Sox pair up this weekend with the latter looking to get back into the AL Wild Card race and the former looking to hold onto the last Wild Card berth. The Guardians and White Sox also match up this weekend in another series with plenty of Wild Card implications.

SB Nation has partnered with DraftKings to sponsor select series previews this season. Here are the betting odds for this series.

DraftKings Series Odds

Series Outcome Odds
Series Outcome Odds
Mariners win -110
Astros win -115