The idea of a big series in early to mid-April just seems counterintuitive. Can a series this early tell you anything about how a season is going to turn out? The Seattle Mariners are the hottest and best team in baseball right now at 12-2. If they beat up on the Astros this weekend at home, the Astros may never recover, right?
Take a step back to the recent past. At this time last year, which AL West team was on a roll similar to the M’s? The LA Angels were 13-3 and easily in first place in the division. They had beaten up on a number of teams including going 5-2 against the Oakland A’s. The Angels were 2.5 games up on the Astros and 7.5 games!!! up on the A’s.
Guess what. The Angels ended up the season 80-82 and 23 games behind the AL West Champ Astros and 17 games behind the Wild Card Oakland A’s. So, though this weekend’s series between the 1st place Mariners and 2nd place Astros may have great entertainment value, it is clear that even if one or the other team crushes its foe, there may be just a little time (like 90% of the season) to reverse any early season trends.
On the other hand, you need not look any farther back than the Astros 2015 surprise season to see the other side of the argument. The Astros had an early 10 game winning streak that resulted in an 18-7 record and a seven-game lead in the West. Basically, that allowed them to hold the AL West lead for most of the season and they made the Wild Card game with an 86-76 record. So, early surprise success may or may not result in a surprise season.
But for grins, let’s compare the two teams as they get ready to bump heads.
If this series comes down to offense and if each team produces on offense like they have to this point, then the Astros may as well stay home. (All stats are through Wednesday’s games). Seattle is leading the AL in BA (.295), OBP (.373), OPS (.932), runs/game (7.86), doubles (29), HRs (34), RBIs (109) and SBs (17). One hard to fathom comparison is between the M’s 7.86 runs/ game, which is double the Astros 3.92 runs/game. Former Astro prospect, Domingo Santana is leading the league with 19 RBIs, which is more than Max Stassi, Tyler White, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick, Tony Kemp, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Aledmys Diaz, and Robinson Chirinos…….COMBINED. The Astros top run producer is George Springer with 10 RBIs. For the M’s, Santana (19 RBIs), Jay Bruce (13), Ryon Healy (12), Tim Beckham (11), Edwin Encarnacion (11), Mitch Haniger (10) and Daniel Vogelbach (10) all have that many RBIs or more. A lot of this is of course unsustainable. Santana is not going to have the 220 RBIs he is on pace for in a sport where Hack Wilson‘s 191 RBIs have stood up for 88 seasons. Jay Bruce is only hitting .204, but 7 of his 10 hits are home runs and he has 3 more RBIs than hits. Something has to give.
On the other side of the measure, the Astros bats after a terrible start, which saw them score only 15 runs in their first 7 games (2.14 runs/game), have warmed up and scored 6 runs/game on their recent six-game home stand which they swept. The Astros are 2nd in BA (.282) in the AL and 4th in OBP (.355) and OPS (.819), but only 9th in runs scored (51). This is a reflection of their early inability to hit with runners in scoring position. They have almost doubled their BA with runners in scoring position to a terrible .183 after hitting a pitiful .095 a few days ago. A red hot Jose Altuve, who is 12 of 28 with 4 HRs in his last seven games has led their uptick in fortunes. They have 5 guys hitting over .300 and 6 guys with OPS over .800 and Springer along with newly acquired Michael Brantley are leading the way in driving in runs. Key points headed into the weekend will be if and how they replace Alex Bregman, who had gotten on base 21 times in the last 8 games before tweaking his hamstring on Tuesday night and what they will do with the DH spot where Tyler White has performed poorly so far this season.
Offense – Advantage – M’s
Matchups for the M’s – Astros series
With James Paxton gone, the starting pitching was one suspect area for the M’s heading into 2018. So far, they have been solid (3.72 ERA – 7th in the league) but unspectacular. The starters have definitely been riding the tsunami of an offense to a 9-0 record on the season. Mike Leake (2-0, 2.92 ERA) and Gonzalez have been the best of the starters. LeBlanc, who pitched in 4 games for the Astros in the hell hole of 2013 has been lucky so far. Hernandez had one decent start and then left his second start after one innings with some type of virus. Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 4.15 ERA) has been solid for them.
The surprise for the Astros is that their two best starters have not been Verlander and Cole (who both could sue for non-support), but Miley and Collin McHugh (2-1, 2.65 ERA). Verlander has looked uncomfortable in his starts, struggling for pitch placement and Cole has shown great stuff and the ability to lose focus and give up just enough runs to lose. Brad Peacock (1-0, 4.63 ERA) has had one good and one bad start so far and with Thursday’s off day he is being skipped in the rotation this time around.
Starting Pitching – Advantage Astros
The Mariners weakest part to date has been their bullpen which has a below average 4.09 ERA for 10th in the league. As we discussed in the division wrapup a few weeks ago…
…..the M’s lost or traded four of their better bullpen arms out of a good bullpen over the off-season. As the Astros showed against the Yankees, they have the patience and talent to take advantage of a very good bullpen and right now the M’s are a good but not deep bullpen. If the Astros can force their way into the back of the bullpen they may find some gold.
The M’s new closer Roenis Elias has been excellent, retread Brandon Brennan has been untouchable, and Anthony Swarzak and Connor Sadzeck have been unscored upon. On the other hand, Zac Rosscup has been a lucky duck (5 hits including a HR and 7 walks in 4.1 IP resulting in only 1 run charged against him) and both Matt Festa and Corey Gearing have been Festa-ed upon by the opposition.
The Astros bullpen has been a real strength for the team, especially during their 6 game winning streak, except for the youngsters Josh James and Framber Valdez who have given up 9 of the 12 runs the bullpen has surrendered to date. Roberto Osuna is 4 for 4 in save opportunities with a 1.50 ERA. Ryan Pressly looks like someone who really, really, really loves the extension he was given as he has a 0.00 ERA and has only allowed 3 of the 20 batters he has faced to get on base. Will Harris is unscored upon, Hector Rondon has given up one dinger and Chris Devenski has been hittable, but has not been walking anyone.
Bullpen – Advantage – Astros
The key to the series may be if the Astros pitching staff can cool off a red hot M’s team like they just did to the Yankees in a 3 game sweep. The M’s have to be feeling unbeatable right now – they are 12-2 and playing an afternoon game against the hapless Royals (2-9) on Thursday. It may not be a “Big” series in the scheme of things, but it is likely both teams will play like it is.
Prediction – Astros take 2 out of 3