MLB

Series preview: Panic! At the ballpark

It’s been over a month since the Seattle Mariners (18-27) hosted the Houston Astros (29-16) at T-Mobile Park and one of these clubs has gotten their shit together while the other club has driven itself straight off the cliff and right into where its fanbase is most comfortable, apathy.

Houston’s season has gotten right back on track after a slow start as the ‘Stros have won six of their last ten. The line-up that had struggled mightily at the start of the season now has seven players with 100+ PAs and a wRC+ north of 100. That’s an obscene amount of depth. One of Houston’s worst offensive performers is Yuli Gurriel (wRC+ of 87 with no walks).

This is compared to the M’s were swept in Boston, and kick started the Red Sox current hot streak. There had been hope that the schedule eased, but the first series against the actively tanking Athletics did not end particularly well. On top of this, the continued use of Drew Steckenrider — whom was optioned to Triple A Tacoma on Thursday — has eroded what little hope there was among the fanbase.

All though the good news for M’s fan is that Kyle Lewis made his return, although his running looks painful. We’ll see what happens, but the lack of depth in the outfield and the starting rotation that I was worried about prior to the lockout has come back to bite the M’s in the ass.

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Projected Starters

Friday May 27th at 6:40 PM

Justin Verlander RHP StatsChris Flexen RHP
1.22/2.81/3.27ERA/FIP/xFIP4.98/5.49/4.83
8.54K/96.44
1.57BB/93.12

Justin Verlander has found the fountain of youth, I’m convinced of it at this point. There is no way in hell he should still average 6.4 innings per start and have an ERA of less than three at the age of 39. But here we are, that’s exactly what he has done through his first eight starts of the season. Despite his lowest strikeout rate since 2008, Verlander has continued to not give up walks and that’s made a huge difference for him; another thing that has helped is the repressed offensive environment that has limited the percentage of flyballs that turn into home runs.

As for Chris Flexen, he’s struggled with walks a bit this season (more so than he did last year) and he’s also given up more dingers through his first eight starts than he did last season. That combination has played a role as to why he’s got a FIP of 5.49; but even if you remove the home runs from the equation, he’s still struggled this season as is shown by his xFIP.

This isn’t a particularly favorable pitching match-up. Especially since Verlander has seemed to completely, and utterly, baffle Seattle’s bats since he was traded to Houston back in 2017.

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Saturday, May 28th at 7:10 PM

José Urquidy RHPStatsLogan Gilbert RHP
4.24/4.33/4.23ERA/FIP/xFIP2.60/3.40/3.56
6.69K/99.52
1.12BB/93.12

José Urquidy has not gotten as many strikeouts as he typically does in a full season thus far and that’s a wee bit concerning if you’re the Astros. He’s also struggled with an abnormally high barrel% this season and it’s part of why he’s left so many batters are getting on base despite his career low walk rate — he’s been able to cover that up with a high strand rate. This is really the first season that his ERA has matched his FIP and xFIP which is a sign that this is pretty much who he is.

As for Logan Gilbert, it feels like his sophomore campaign might be a breakout season for the 25 year old. While his walkout rate is significantly higher than it was last season, his strikeout rate is roughly in line with it and he’s actually giving up slightly less dingers than he had last season. It’s been nice to have a potential ace in the rotation and he’s kind of been their skid stopper throughout this insanely tough May.

On paper, this feels and looks like the most favorable pitching match-up for the Mariners. If the offense can produce runs, like they did in Urquidy’s previous start in Seattle, this is likely the start that the M’s will pick up the win to avoid a potential sweep.

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Sunday, May 29th at 1:10 PM

Luis Garcia RHPStatsMarco Gonzales LHP
3.38/4.19/4.00ERA/FIP/xFIP3.74/5.75/4.76
9.49K/95.61
2.95BB/93.32

Luis Garcia is a guy that, if your lineup is patient against, you can draw some walks. And the M’s are extremely good at drawing walks and generating traffic through the first two months of the season. The problem is that Garcia is also really good at making batters look absolutely silly. This is a tough match-up for Seattle’s bats, but also one that has a ton of potential for the offense to just explode.

The problem is that Marco Gonzales is a guy that’s ERA has vastly out performed his peripherals this season. With his low strikeout rate, and highest walk rate since he came to Seattle, it feels like he’s one meltdown start away from those numbers coming inline with each other. Fortunately he’s got his highest ground ball rate since 2018 and the third highest of his career this year; which his how he’s been able to limit the damage.

This feels like the start that could see Gonzales luck runs out, particularly against the Astros’ lineup. If he’s able to induce ground balls still that will help him; but if he can’t — and the M’s can’t get on base against Garcia — then this could be a long baseball game.

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Bullpen comparison

Houston AstrosSeattle Mariners
ERA/FIP/xFIP2.62/3.29/3.934.34/4.01/3.78
K/98.809.57
BB/93.091.29
HR/FB6.2%12.3%
BABIP.267.295

Seattle’s bullpen is feast or famine, strike them out or give up a dinger. And so far they’ve been completely snake bitten with the dinger as their xFIP of 3.78 shows. If they can get that dinger rate (and hard hit rate) down then the bullpen will be that much more effective. Because right now it’s easily been the biggest weakness for the Mariners’ through the first two months of the season.

As for Houston, its bullpen has been absolute nails. The Astros have been aided by an abnormally low BABIP against and that has helped them strand runners despite the fact that they keep traffic on the bases with walks.

The bullpen match-up is going to come down to how Scott Servais and Dusty Baker use them. If there is appropriate usage, and the M’s dinger problem does not rear its ugly head, then this could be a situation where Seattle gets the advantage. That is because Houston gives up a ton of walks while the Mariners bats will be able to draw them.

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Offensive comparison

Houston AstrosSeattle Mariners
Batting Avg./OBP/SLG.232/.309/.408.234/.315/.377
K%20.9%22.5%
BB%9.4%9.6%
wOBA.317.309
wRC+113110
BABIP.262.281

First gut reaction is that I was not expecting these two offenses to look that similar in 2022. Yes the M’s are striking out a little more, but they’re walking at about the same rate and have a higher on base percentage. The biggest difference between these two offenses is that the M’s haven’t hit for as much power and that’s why Houston has averaged 0.26 more runs per game this season than Seattle; yes, the difference is really that small…Houston has averaged 4.22 runs per game while the Mariners have averaged 3.96.

Also, it feels like we should note that Seattle has been luckier than the Astros on balls put in play. Which is just absolutely mindboggling to me as the M’s seemed to have been snake bitten this season. In fact, their BABIP is right in the middle of the pack at 18th, Houston’s is 29th.

This is three game set is going to come down to Seattle’s ability to cluster together hits, particularly when traffic is on the base paths. While the pitching staff has to be limit walks and keep traffic off of the paths otherwise this is going to be another lopsided series that will keep putting the M’s further down in the race for a playoff spot.

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The big picture

AL West standings

NameW-LGBLast 10
Houston Astros29-166-4
LAA Angels27-182.05-5
Texas Rangers19-238.56-4
Oakland Athletics19-2710.54-6
Seattle Mariners18-2711.02-8
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AL Wildcard standings

NameW-LGBLast 10
LAA Angels27-185-5
Tampa Bay Rays26-176-4
Toronto Blue Jays23-206-4
Chicago White Sox22-211.06-4
Boston Red Sox20-233.07-3
Texas Rangers19-233.56-4
Cleveland Guardians18-223.53-7
Oakland Athletics19-275.54-6
Baltimore Orioles18-276.04-6
Seattle Mariners18-276.02-8

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