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Series Preview: Mariners (66-55) at Astros (70-52)

The Mariners head to Houston looking for another series win against the Astros.

MLB: AUG 10 Astros at Orioles Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bedraggled but triumphant after winning a battle of a four-game series in Kansas City, the Mariners head to Houston this weekend. The bullpen is taxed, the baserunning needs work, and the opposition is formidable. After this series the Mariners have a long stretch against sub-.500 teams, but this series is one where they can gain direct ground against a Wild Card and Division competitor. Luckily for them, some key players are as hot as they’ve been all season. First among them is Julio Rodríguez, who went 12-for-21 over the last four games, with 11 RBIs and a career high five hits yesterday. I’ll be watching Julio in hopes that his recent mechanical adjustment keeps bearing dividends; I’ll also be on the lookout for J.P. Crawford’s return, which could be as early as Sunday. What will you be watching for this weekend?

At a Glance

Mariners Astros
Mariners Astros
Game 1 Friday, August 18 | 5:10 pm
RHP Bryce Miller RHP J.P. France
48% 52%
Game 2 Saturday, August 19 | 4:10 pm
RHP Logan Gilbert LHP Framber Valdez
41% 59%
Game 3 Sunday, August 20 | 10:05 am
RHP Emerson Hancock RHP Hunter Brown
37% 63%
*Game odds courtesy of FanGraphs

Team Overview

Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Overview Astros Mariners Edge
Batting (wRC+) 106 (5th in AL) 105 (6th in AL) Astros
Fielding (OAA) 8 (4th) 12 (3rd) Mariners
Starting Pitching (FIP-) 102 (7th) 92 (3rd) Mariners
Bullpen (FIP-) 98 (9th) 87 (2nd) Mariners

At the All-Star Break, the Astros were having a disappointing season. Not a bad season, but a disappointing one. They had no players in the top 25 in the league, had clawed their way back into the division race, and were plagued with injuries to starting pitchers and big-name bats. For a team that won the World Series in 2022 and has dominated the AL West for the better part of a decade, scraping by with second place in the division and no standout stars isn’t good enough.

Since then, the offense has jumped up several places in the rankings, and leadership went all in at the trade deadline. Houston’s two trades brought Astros alums back into the fold, both men whose names hold grimace-worthy memories for the Mariners. M’s-eater Justin Verlander has returned to the Astros rotation, which allows the team to better manage innings of their young starters. Kendall Graveman shores up the bullpen, which was in need of stronger arms to be competitive in the postseason. In return, Houston shipped off two of their top five prospects, including #1 prospect Drew Gilbert. After those moves, the Astros’ farm system is ranked dead last in baseball, further incentive to stretch the current competitive window as long as possible. Since those trades, the team is 10-5, two and a half games behind the Rangers in the AL West, and in possession of the second AL Wild Card. The Astros had an off day yesterday, and the series against the Mariners kicks off thirteen days without one coming up.

Astros Lineup

Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Player Position Bats PA K% BB% ISO wRC+
Jose Altuve 2B R 229 15.7% 14.0% 0.216 167
Alex Bregman 3B R 538 13.2% 12.6% 0.167 116
Kyle Tucker RF L 513 13.1% 11.5% 0.229 146
Yordan Alvarez DH L 324 21.3% 13.0% 0.293 162
Chas McCormick LF R 313 27.8% 10.2% 0.251 154
Jon Singleton 1B L 64 23.4% 15.6% 0.130 52
Jeremy Peña SS R 466 22.3% 6.7% 0.122 89
Jake Meyers CF R 304 26.0% 8.6% 0.158 91
Martín Maldonado C R 308 34.1% 7.8% 0.132 54

The Astros lineup is studded with familiar names having familiar success. Kyle Tucker leads the bunch, with a 146 wRC+ and 24 home runs; he’s far and away Houston’s offensive star and in the top fifteen MLB batters in fWAR. Due to injuries and platoons, he and Alex Bregman are the only players who’ve played in upwards of 115 games this season for the Astros. Center fielder Chas McCormick is right behind Tucker in fWAR and home runs, pairing his production with a high 27.8% strikeout rate. Yordan Álvarez has missed quite a bit of time on the IL, but when he’s playing he’s Yordan Álvarez-ing his way around the bases to the tune of 21 homers and a 162 wRC+. The longest-tenured Astro José Altuve has also missed a lot of the year due to injury, but likewise manages to keep producing at a high level; he’s racked up 3 fWAR in just 51 games. Altuve currently has 1997 major-league hits, so there’s a good chance he’ll get to 2000 this weekend and the Mariners will have to sit through the celebrations. Altuve did suffer a left knee contusion in Tuesday’s game, but was back on the field Wednesday.

One player who is not living up to expectations is 2022 rookie World Series MVP Jeremy Peña. Peña’s sophomore slump has him batting for just an 89 wRC+. His power, in particular, has dropped since last season, and our sister site breaks down some potential contributing factors.

Probable Pitchers

Updated Stuff+ Explainer

Houston Astros v Miami Marlins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

RHP J.P. France

102 17.4% 7.2% 9.1% 44.3% 2.74 4.02
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 42.3% 93.1 101 54 105 0.389
Cutter 20.5% 86.8 118 89 125 0.324
Changeup 15.4% 81.9 75 96 95 0.216
Curveball 11.2% 75.9 123 162 110 0.133
Sweeper 10.7% 80.3 109 95 94 0.326

With a starting rotation decimated by injuries, the Astros have had to call on some of their minor league depth to soak up innings in the rotation this year. Some of those guys have been busts, but J.P. France may be one of the bright spots. Ranked 12th this preseason in a shallow farm system, he made his debut in early May against the Mariners and has been a solid member of the rotation ever since. He’s allowed more than four runs in a single start just once over his last 12 outings and has gotten by despite a below average strikeout-to-walk ratio.

LHP Framber Valdez

149 2/3 24.6% 6.0% 14.2% 54.2% 3.31 3.43
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Sinker 48.1% 95.5 100 80 74 0.364
Cutter 12.9% 84.5 134 182 124 0.256
Changeup 13.3% 90.3 97 103 104 0.305
Curveball 25.4% 80.2 118 124 90 0.225

From a previous series preview:

With Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander both out of the picture in Houston, Framber Valdez has ascended to the top of their rotation. He enjoyed a big breakout back in 2020 but he’s been even better this year as the Astros ace. He’s throwing all of his pitches with more velocity this year and the cutter he introduced into his repertoire last year has been even better this season. He’s racking up both strikeouts and groundballs and has a pretty good case to make as the best pitcher in the American League.

In his previous outing against the Mariners, Valdez allowed two runs in six innings, allowing five hits and two walks while striking out six.

RHP Hunter Brown

125 1/3 26.5% 7.5% 19.5% 53.9% 4.16 3.93
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+ xwOBA
Four-seam 43.3% 95.9 105 104 109 0.333
Splitter 4.3% 88.2 96 129 86 0.215
Curveball 24.4% 83.0 112 90 100 0.277
Slider 25.9% 91.8 107 60 116 0.333

From a previous series preview:

Hunter Brown’s development gave the Astros a convenient excuse to let Justin Verlander walk in free agency during the offseason. The 24-year-old made his debut last year, quickly jumping through Houston’s organization after being drafted in the fifth round in 2019. There have been plenty of comparisons made between the youngster and Verlander — Brown grew up outside Detroit and idolized Verlander as a kid. On the mound, the similarities continue; both rely on a hard, riding fastball located up in the zone accompanied by a pair of breaking balls that are used to generate weak contact and whiffs alike.

Brown was rocked by the Mariners in his previous outing against them during that big four-game series prior to the All-Star break. He allowed five runs in just three innings, giving up eight hits and three walks while striking out eight.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Rangers 72-49 0.595 -- W-L-W-W-L
Astros 70-52 0.574 2.5 W-L-L-W-W
Mariners 66-55 0.545 6.0 L-L-W-W-W
Angels 60-62 0.492 12.5 L-W-L-L-W
Athletics 34-87 0.281 38.0 L-L-L-L-W

The Wild Card Race

Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Team W-L W% Games Behind Recent Form
Tampa Bay 73-50 0.593 +5.5 W-L-W-L-W
Astros 70-52 0.574 +3.0 W-L-L-W-W
Blue Jays 67-55 0.549 -- L-L-W-W-L
Mariners 66-55 0.542 0.5 L-L-W-W-W
Red Sox 63-58 0.521 3.5 L-W-W-L-L

Thanks to the Blue Jays’ two off days and series split with the Phillies, the Mariners gained a game in the Wild Card race this week, sitting half a game behind Toronto in that third spot. The Rays and Astros, gained a half game each over that third spot in their series wins against the Giants and Marlins. While the Mariners are in Houston, the Rays play the Angels and Toronto heads to Cincinnati for three against the Reds. In the West, Texas took two of three against the Angels; they host the Brewers this weekend.