The Astros’ ALDS opponent has been revealed and it is a team they know very well from their own division. The Astros have played the Seattle Mariners 19 times each of the last 10 seasons (other than Covid 2020) since they have joined the AL West. They were 12-7 against the M’s this season. (It doesn’t matter).
They went an amazing 14-5, 14-5, and 18-1 between 2017 and 2019 against the M’s. (It doesn’t matter). The M’s stumbled down the stretch in 2022, at one time going 7-12 in one 19-game stretch in September. (It doesn’t matter). The Astros have a huge advantage in playoff experience – having made it to the postseason 7 of the last 8 seasons. (It doesn’t matter). The last time the Mariners were in the playoffs in 2001, their Rookie of the Year in waiting, Julio Rodriguez, was less than a year old. (It just doesn’t matter).
What does matter is that the Mariners made the playoffs in 2022 and won the wild card series in two games on the road against the Blue Jays. They sent the ace they stole from the Reds at the trade deadline, Luis Castillo, out to the mound in game 1, and he threw 7.1 innings of shutout ball in a 4-0 win. In game two, their star pitcher Robbie Ray was manhandled by Toronto, but the team came back from an 8-1 deficit to beat the Blue Jays 10-9. They were aided by a fielding collision between Bo Bichette and former Astro star George Springer that knocked Springer out of the game and allowed the three tying runs to score. What matters in the playoffs is that anyone can win any series, and any team can get enough momentum behind them for two to three weeks to beat even the very best teams.
So, what does the series between two teams that know each other so well, the Astros and the M’s, look like?
The Astros have the best starting staff in the American League, anyway you look at it. Their starters have won an incredible 84 games out of their 106 wins this season. Second in the AL? The Mariners with 56 wins. The Astros starters are 1st in the AL with a 2.95 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, and a .213 BA against. The Mariners are 6th in ERA (3.75), 8th in WHIP (1.26) and 8th in BAA (.251).
The series is going to play out as a Game 1 Tuesday, Game 2 Thursday and then Games 3-5 (if needed) Saturday thru Monday. The only starter announced so far is likely Cy Young winner Justin Verlander (18-4, 1.75 ERA) in Game 1, but Game 2 and Game 3 are probably going to be Framber Valdez (17-6, 2.82 ERA) and Lance McCullers Jr. (4-2, 2.27 ERA). Game 4, if needed, would be where things get interesting. They could bring back Verlander on normal rest for that game, but that would burn him for starting the first game of the next series. Would they use him here if they were down 1-2, but not if they were 2-1? They still have (depending on their playoff roster) Cristian Javier (11-9, 2.54 ERA), Jose Urquidy (13-8, 3.94 ERA) and Luis Garcia (15-8, 3.72 ERA) in reserve to start that 4th game.
On the M’s side of the game, if they don’t bring back Castillo on short rest, they will likely will start the ALDS with young Logan Gilbert, who is 13-6, 3.20 ERA and has pitched solidly against the Astros. They would certainly follow him with Castillo (8-6, 2.99 ERA – Reds and M’s) on Thursday. Then the question is would they follow him with Robbie Ray (12-12, 3.71 ERA) , who was hit around by the Astros this year or Chris Flexen (8-9, 3.73 ERA), who had much better outings against the Astros. Rookie George Kirby (8-5, 3.39 ERA is another choice for the M’s, who threw a ton of pitches in his 4 inning start against the Astros earlier this year.
Bottom line – this is an area that the Astros should have the advantage, but a five game series is nerve racking.
The Astros have statistically the best bullpen in the American League as their 2.80 ERA is tops and they have a strong 1.14 WHIP (3rd) and .210 BA against (3rd). But the bullpen is a real strength for the M’s. Their 3.33 ERA (4th) trails the Astros a bit, but they do have the best WHIP (1.08) and BA against (.207) in the AL. One of the biggest differences between the teams is the 65 HRs the M’s have given up vs. the 36 by the Astros. The Mariners pen did pitch about 10% more innings than the Astros, but that doesn’t explain that big difference in homers.
Paul Sewald (5-4, 20 svs, 2.67 ERA) is the Mariners closer. Other high leverage relievers are Diego Castillo (7-3, 7 saves, 3.65 ERA), Erik Swanson (3-2, 3 saves, 1.64 ERA) and Andres Munoz (2-5, 4 svs, 2.49 ERA). Even though the leftys in the bullpen don’t always have the best stats, Manager Scott Servais has never been shy about bringing in Anthony Misiewicz (0-1, 4.61 ERA), Matthew Boyd (2-0, 1.35 ERA), and Ryan Borucki (2-0, 4.24 ERA). It will be interesting to see who makes the playoff roster for this series.
The Astros’ bullpen starts with closer Ryan Pressly (3-3, 33 saves, 2.98 ERA), but he shares late inning high leveraged situations with Rafael Montero (5-2, 14 svs, 2.37 ERA), Ryne Stanek (2-1, 1 sv, 1.15 ERA), Hector Neris (6-4, 3 svs, 3.72 ERA), and Bryan Abreu (4-0, 2 svs, 1.94 ERA). The wide, open question is who will be helping out the bullpen in a longer relief role. Rookie Hunter Brown (2-0, 0.89 ERA)? Starters like Javier, Urquidy or Garcia? The makeup and use of the long relievers will be a key to the series.
Bottom Line – Astros have a small advantage here
The Astros are statistically better than the Mariners. They were 3rd in the AL in runs scored and OPS and 5th in BA and 4th in OBP. The Mariners were closer to the middle of the pack as they were 8th in runs scored, 14th in BA, 7th in OBP and 6th in OPS. But you have to be afraid of any team that believes in itself that it comes back from an 8-1 deficit in the playoffs.
The heart of the Astros offense is the quartet of Yordan Alvarez (95 runs, 37 HRs, 97 RBIs), Jose Altuve (103 runs, 28 HRs, 57 RBIs), Kyle Tucker (71 runs, 30 HRs, 107 RBIs) and Alex Bregman (93 runs, 23 HRs, 93 RBIs). Assistance they get from rookie Jeremy Pena, Yuli Gurriel and Trey Mancini can be critical, but if they get help from whoever is plugging the CF spot (Chas McCormick, Mauricio Dubon) that can be big too. Aledmys Diaz is their secret weapon, who can play left field or anywhere on the infield.
The core of the Mariners’ offense revolves around young CF Julio Rodriguez (84 runs, 28 HRs, 75 RBIs), 1B Ty France (65 runs, 20 HRs, 84 RBIs), and 3B Eugenio Suarez (76 runs, 31 HRs, 87 RBIs). Their catcher Cal Rayleigh has a lot of power 27 HRs, 63 RBIs that is offset by his low .211 BA. Mitch Haniger has missed a lot of time this year, but has been productive when well. What they get out of some of the other folks like Adam Frazier, Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford may well tell their story.
Bottom Line – Despite the worries we have with the Astros’ offense, there have been overall a lot more problems with the Mariners’ offense.
Overall – If the series is decided by playoff experience, the Astros win in a walk. If it is decided by momentum and the excitement of a first-time playoff run for most of their players, the Mariners are a real threat.
Bottomline – The Astros in four games, but it will be tough.