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Series Preview: Mariners (54-45) at Astros (64-35)

The Mariners embark on their most difficult road trip of the season, beginning with four games against the Astros.

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

When you’re in the middle of a grueling stretch against some of the best teams in the league, and there’s a soft series in between, it’s so important to be able to take care of business to avoid falling into a deep spiral. That’s exactly what the Mariners did against the Rangers this week. Following up their disappointing sweep at the hands of the Astros with three straight wins was exactly what the team needed — and it helped that Julio Rodríguez returned from his minor wrist injury to make a big impact in two of those wins too.

At a Glance

Mariners Astros
Mariners Astros
Game 1 Thursday, July 28 | 5:10 pm
RHP Logan Gilbert RHP José Urquidy
46% 54%
Game 2 Friday, July 29 | 5:10 pm
LHP Robbie Ray RHP Justin Verlander
39% 61%
Game 3 Saturday, July 30 | 4:10 pm
RHP Chris Flexen LHP Framber Valdez
34% 66%
Game 4 Sunday, July 31 | 11:10 am
RHP George Kirby RHP Jake Odorizzi
44% 56%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 112 (3rd in AL) 107 (5th in AL) Astros
Fielding (OAA) 22 (1st) 7 (5th) Astros
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 93 (2nd) 109 (12th) Astros
Bullpen (FIP-) 81 (3rd) 97 (7th) Astros

This seven-game road trip will almost certainly be the most difficult stretch the Mariners face for the rest of the season. They’ll begin with a four-game set against the Astros and then head to New York to face the Yankees for three. It’s a mid-season preview of some potential playoff opponents should the Mariners make it into the postseason. If they flop, it won’t mark the end of their season — they’ve built enough of a cushion in the Wild Card race and their remaining schedule is so soft — but it is a good test for how they matchup with the best teams in the AL.

In this week’s edition of “You Can’t Predict Baseball,” the Astros followed up their three-game sweep of the Mariners by getting swept in three games in Oakland; it was the first time Houston had been swept this year. Among the four other division rivals, the A’s now hold the best record against the ‘stros this year at 6-6. The Mariners now head to Houston to face the same three starters they faced in that series in Seattle last weekend plus Jake Odorizzi.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Player Position Bats PA BABIP wRC+ BsR
Jose Altuve 2B R 355 0.276 149 -3.0
Jeremy Peña SS R 315 0.307 119 1.3
Yordan Alvarez DH L 341 0.301 201 -1.0
Alex Bregman 3B R 403 0.247 120 -1.8
Kyle Tucker RF L 375 0.249 129 1.8
Yuli Gurriel 1B R 350 0.255 94 -0.6
Chas McCormick LF R 247 0.267 111 -0.8
Jake Meyers CF R 98 0.351 83 0.0
Martín Maldonado C R 251 0.210 66 -2.6

Not much has changed with the Astros lineup since they were in Seattle; it’s one of the most consistent lineups in the majors with everyone nearly cemented into their roles. First base has been an issue for them this season. At 38 years old, Yuli Gurriel is having trouble following up his career year in 2021. Through the first three months of the season, he had produced just a 89 wRC+ and was batting just .226 after leading the AL in that category last year. He’s been a bit better in July, slashing .274/.329/.411 (114 wRC+).

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

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

RHP José Urquidy

100 2/3 18.2% 5.2% 11.6% 35.5% 3.93 4.50
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 54.1% 93.6 2195 123 84 87
Cutter 7.9% 87.4 2508 95 124 113
Changeup 15.7% 86.1 1975 102 89 135
Curveball 12.5% 77.6 2618 120 79 66
Slider 9.8% 79.9 2591 85 72 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.

Urquidy finally solved the Mariners last weekend, holding them to just a single run in six innings of work.

RHP Justin Verlander

116 1/3 26.1% 4.7% 9.7% 38.7% 1.86 3.09
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 50.3% 95.0 2417 154 77 110
Curveball 18.4% 78.8 2620 105 86 118
Slider 29.2% 87.4 2460 137 101 127

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.

Verlander has featured in all six series against the Mariners this season. He was completely dominant against them in his last outing, only getting into trouble in the seventh inning. He escaped after allowing just a single run to score.

LHP Framber Valdez

121 2/3 22.1% 8.8% 12.5% 66.4% 2.74 3.21
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 4.4% 94.0 2192 60
Sinker 50.6% 94.0 2207 136 82 83
Cutter 7.8% 83.7 2685 68 150 121
Changeup 9.1% 89.1 1623 68 62 101
Curveball 28.1% 79.2 2843 123 135 131

From a previous series preview:

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.

Valdez stifled the Mariners over six innings and only ran into trouble in the seventh like Verlander the day before.

RHP Jake Odorizzi

53 17.3% 6.8% 6.7% 31.1% 4.25 3.87
Pitch Frequency Velocity Spin Rate Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 53.7% 92.1 2130 92 88 105
Cutter 20.3% 87.8 2095 90 86 112
Splitter 11.6% 85.3 1363 60 53 65
Curveball 4.5% 72.0 2192
Slider 9.8% 82.6 2072 85

From a previous series preview:

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.

Odorizzi faced the A’s in three straight starts prior to this series. He was dealing with a blister on his throwing hand during his last start and Oakland took advantage, scoring six runs off him. He held the Mariners scoreless across 6.2 innings back in May in his last start against Seattle.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Astros 64-35 0.646 -- W-W-L-L-L
Mariners 54-45 0.545 10.0 L-L-W-W-W
Rangers 43-54 0.443 20.0 L-W-L-L-L
Angels 42-56 0.429 21.5 L-W-L-W-W
Athletics 38-63 0.376 27.0 W-L-W-W-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Blue Jays 54-44 0.551 +1.0 W-W-W-W-L
Mariners 54-45 0.545 +0.5 L-L-W-W-W
Rays 53-45 0.541 -- L-L-L-L-W
Guardians 50-47 0.515 2.5 L-L-L-W-W
Orioles 49-49 0.500 4.0 W-L-W-W-L
White Sox 49-49 0.500 4.0 L-W-W-W-L
Red Sox 49-50 0.495 4.5 L-L-W-L-L

The Mariners regained some ground in the Wild Card race after their sweep of the Rangers, sitting just a half game behind the Blue Jays for the top spot and three games ahead of the Guardians, the best non-playoff team currently. With the trade deadline looming after this weekend, there could be some big shake ups in the playoff races come next week.

Toronto split a two-game series with the Cardinals at home this week and will host the Tigers for four games this weekend. The Orioles managed to take three of four from the Rays this week and have now bypassed the Red Sox in the AL East standings. It’s impossible to tell what they’ll do at the trade deadline. They’ll head to Cincinnati while Tampa Bay returns home to host the Guardians. Cleveland will wrap up their four-game series against the Red Sox this afternoon and then Boston will host the Brewers this weekend. The White Sox split their two-game series in Colorado earlier this week and will host the suddenly red hot A’s for three games beginning tomorrow.

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 +320
Series tied +160
Astros win +115