ALDS preview: Our space bound sailors

After an absolutely insane come from behind comeback win to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre, the Mariners head to Houston, Texas to face their nemesis. The Houston Astros have absolutely owned the AL West, and really the American League, over the last seven years.

This year, the Mariners had a 7-12 record against Houston with a run differential of -8. In particular, it was insane to watch Seattle’s prized free agent acquisition get continually rocked by the Astros’ bats; he was brought in to help the M’s keep games close and (for whatever reason) he was unable to do that against the division front runner. It will be interesting to see how Scott Servais decides to approach the rotation with Robbie Ray’s struggles over the last couple of weeks. That will be one of the major pressure points as we approach this series.

How Seattle’s rotation stacks up after the sweep in Toronto, and the extra day off will really shape how this matchup goes. Houston will roll out Justin Verlander in game one on Tuesday, and he’s been absolutely dangerous whenever he’s pitched against the M’s.

The biggest thing about this series is the fact that, no matter what happens in Houston, there will be at least one playoff game in Seattle this postseason. It’s going to be an absolutely insane environment at T-Mobile Park on Saturday which could put far more pressure on the Mariners as there is a high chance that it’s an elimination game. Particularly with how badly Seattle has played at Minute Maid Park.


Probable starters

Editor’s note: The only match-up that either side has announced is game one. We’ll keep an eye out and update this as we can.

Game one: Tuesday October 11th, at 12:37 PM (TBS)

Logan Gilbert RHPStatsJustin Verlander RHP

At 39-years-old, Justin Verlander pitched in a 175 innings yet finished the year with a sub two ERA and a sub 2.5 FIP. The dude is still filthy even though he’s lost a couple ticks off his velocity over the years. Verlander has been at the forefront of adapting to his spin rate and that’s extended his hall of fame career as he’s been on the hunt for another championship ring. Whenever the M’s have faced the ageless wonder, he’s absolutely baffled their bats which means that we should probably see a pitchers’ duel in the first game of this series.

On the bump for the road team, the Mariners will roll out Logan Gilbert — who did not pitch in the Wildcard series thanks to the sweep. He doesn’t have the same command as Verlander, but he has velocity and a mean alter ego that cares not for how his opponents feel. The 25-year-old had struggled at inducing whiffs this season, which is why you see a higher than expected ground ball rate. Due to that ground ball rate, he’s actually had less fly balls – which has led to a relatively row home run rate. Against the Astros’, “Walter” is going to need to keep the ball on the ground; if he gives up fly balls then this game could get ugly extremely quickly.


Game two: Thursday October 13th, at 12:37 PM (TBS)

Luis Castillo RHPStatsFrambler Valdez LHP

Officially, game two in Houston is TBD for both squads. But if Frambler Valdez doesn’t get the start for Houston I would be completely flabbergasted. Valdez is a pitcher that is able to eat innings and get outs, that’s why he’s been so effective for the Astros this season. His biggest problem has been the home run rate of 12.5%, combined with three walks per nine innings. While Seattle has struggled against the 28-year-old at times this season, its offense is built to take advantage of his weakness.

Luis Castillo’s first playoff start with the Mariners was beyond sexy. The M’s ace pitched 7.2 innings and struck out five while he relied heavily on his defense to shut out a dangerous Toronto line-up. Castillo was absolutely filthy with his practically pinpoint command with a 100 MPH two seamer and four seamer that broke towards opposite sides of the plate — how the hell was Toronto supposed to hit that? — and a filthy slider that kept the Jays off balance in Seattle’s first playoff game in 21 years.


Game three: Saturday October 15th at TBD (TBS)


Game four (if necessary): Sunday October 16th at TBD (TBS)


Game five (if necessary): Monday October 17th at TBD (TBS)


Bullpen comparison

Seattle MarinersHouston Astros

Paul Sewald’s struggles against Toronto was a concern, especially with another potent offense on deck in the ALDS. But the rest of the pen locked down and only allowed a single run to cross after the fifth, minus Diego Castillo’s wild slider to start off his appearance. If George Kirby remains in the pen for the Division Series that adds another dimension to one of the league’s best bullpens…which would be big for any game that might become a battle of the pens.

Seattle’s bullpen came into it’s one with the emergence of Pen Murfee and Erik Swanson — after Drew Steckenrider was sent to Tacoma; meanwhile, Houston’s pen has just been straight-up dominant from the start of the season through its conclusion. In terms of fWAR, the Astros most valuable relief pitcher has been Hector Neris (a FIP of 2.35) as he racked up 65.1 innings while he struck out 10.88 batters per nine innings. Neris is one of four relief pitchers that were worth more than one in this season and that’s a level of depth that few bullpens can match.


Offensive comparison

Seattle MarinersHouston Astros
Batting Avg./OBP/SLG.230/.315/.390.248/.319/.424
Runs per game4.264.55

Houston’s offense walked a little less than we’ve seen over the last couple of years, but their low strikeout rate shows a continued mastery of the strike zone. Not only do they have a good eye for the zone, but they’ve also got a quite a bit of pop that can bury an opponent quickly if they don’t have command — or aren’t getting the calls from blue. The only good news in this that the Astros have struggled with the shift just as much as the Mariners have. If this comes down to the bats, this will be a favorable matchup for Houston as they have far more depth than Seattle.

The historic comeback win on Saturday afternoon used every single piece of BABIP luck that the Mariners had. Carlos Santana found his power stroke, and Cal Raleigh continued his torrid hot streak. What was most impressive of Seattle’s success in the late innings was that it was primarily from the bottom of the order — Raleigh’s success is the exception. While I find it highly unlikely that will continue against Houston’s stronger pitching staff, it’s the playoffs and weirder things have happened.


Series outlook

While Seattle had a clear advantage in pitching in the Wildcard round, that won’t be true in the ALDS. This series is going to come down the offense that draws the most walks, and which pitching staff can generate the most strikeouts. The Astros have been particularly good at generating strikeouts from their pitchers while the bats don’t K a lot. If that’s how this series goes then Houston should rightfully be the favorites.

It will be crucial for Seattle to get Houston’s offense out of sync, and with Luis Castillo in the rotation — who the Astros have yet to face — the odds of that are higher than they were if Jerry Dipoto doesn’t make that trade. With Castillo and Gilbert (Walter) in the first two games of the series the odds of a split at Minute Maid Park (their personal house of horros) are high…hell they might even luck themselves into a 2-0 start to the series as they had into their first playoff game at T-Mobile Park since October 2001.


I’m still emotionally drunk off of Saturday. Seattle drops the first game in Houston, but Castillo settles things down and they pick up three straight wins to clinch an ALCS berth at home on Sunday.

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