In the seminal buddies film (buddies who are 1970’s anti-heroes and – spoiler alert – headed for a sad ending) “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, Butch and the Kid are pursued incessantly by a mystery posse. They break away from the rest of their gang, try to lose the posse by walking in a creek, send one of their two horses in a different direction and finally try to lose them by fleeing on foot up a mountain. Through all this, the pursuers never falter, which brings Butch and Kid to continuously ask “Who are those guys”.
The 2018 Astros may be saying this exact quote about their closest pursuers (or at times division leaders), the Seattle Mariners. Here at this blog we reviewed the M’s earlier in the season and estimated they would finish the season at 81-81. https://chipalatta.com/2018/04/16/astros-division-rival-2018-seattle-mariners/ At the 64% pace the M’s are winning at, they would reach 81 wins about the third week in August.
So, who is this team that is keeping pace with the Astros despite losing one of their best players, Robinson Cano for taking a substance that masks PEDs? They are a team that has been terribly efficient or terribly lucky in winning as they have a 46-25 record through Saturday even though they are only +28 in runs scored vs. runs allowed. In comparison, the Astros were only 1/2 a game better at 47-25 despite having a major league-best +154 runs scored over allowed!! The biggest reason is Seattle’s great 23-10 record in one-run games, which is not only a great percentage but also a large number of one-run wins this early in the season. The Astros are a crummy 6-12 in one-run games so far in 2018.
So how are the M’s matching up with the AL?
Even though the M’s are trailing the Astros by a run in ERA for their starting rotation, they are still solidly 6th in the AL as nobody is close to the Astros starting five. The M’s are getting top-notch numbers from the expected (James Paxton 6-1, 3.44 ERA), the up and coming (Marco Gonzalez 7-3, 3.42 ERA) and the unexpected journeyman (Former Astro Wade LeBlanc 3-0, 2.63 ERA). Mike Leake (7-3, 4.26 ERA) and Felix Hernandez (6-6, 5.44 ERA) have both benefitted from good run support to hand the M’s 13 wins. The starters have been solid and have given the team a shot all year long.
The M’s bullpen has been just as solid as the starters with a 6th best 3.53 ERA. They are leading the league in saves with 28 (the Astros only have 17) which reflects how great they have been in one-run games. Edwin Diaz has been nails in the closer role, with 27 saves in 30 opportunities. He is on a pace for 60 saves, which really does not seem probable. They have had some injuries in the bullpen, but still have had good performances from Chasen Bradford (4-0, 2.30 ERA), lefty James Pazos (1-1, 1.48 ERA), and Dan Altavilla (3-2, 2.61 ERA and on the DL). Their pen has been solid and clutch in close games.
The Mariners love the number 6 as they are also 6th in runs scored in the AL (just like they are 6th in ERA for the SPs and RPs). The M’s lost 2B Cano to his suspension, but just so happened to have traded in the offseason for 2B Dee Gordon, who they used in CF until shifting him back to 2B after Cano’s suspension. Along with well known DH Nelson Cruz (16 HR and 39 RBIs), the M’s have developed some little known young players scattered throughout the lineup. SS Jean Segura is vying with Jose Altuve for the top BA with .343 BA / .856 OPS / 43 RBIs and 14 SBs. RF Mitch Haniger is probably their best hitter at this point with a .272 BA/.358 OBP/.872 OPS slash and 16 HRs and a team-leading 53 RBIs. They are getting decent numbers from Gordon and 1B Ryon Healy and 3B Kyle Seager is down at .227 BA, but still has 41 RBIs.
Overall, the Mariners are above average in all aspects of the game. They are in almost every game they play and they have been one of the best teams in baseball when the game is close. Teams that are this good at winning late tend to play with confidence throughout what they feel is a magical year. The Astros just have to hope that the M’s float back towards their real norm.