The Seattle Mariners were the early surprise team, beating expectations and statistical logic to sit neck-and-neck with the Houston Astros atop the AL West through the month of June. From there, however, the house of cards started to tumble for the Mariners.
Can Seattle get things back on track against an injury riddled Astros team? They’ve got a crucial four-game series coming up with the series opener set for Thursday on MLB Network.
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ESPN SundayNight Baseball– Seattle Mariners vs. Houston Astros
Date and Time:Thursday, August 9, 2018, 8:10 p.m. ET
Location:Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
2018 MLB Betting Odds at BETCRIS:(Check Back Later)
Mariners vs. Astros 2018 MLB TV Coverage:MLB Network
James Paxton held the Astros scoreless over seven innings on July 30 in Seattle as the Mariners won that game 2-0 over Houston. Paxton will attempt to replicate that success and may need to do just that to get the win as the pitches opposite the Astro’s Justin Verlander.
Paxton has thrown back-to-back quality outings, combining for three runs and 11 hits allowed in 14 innings after his worst start of the season where he failed to get out of the first, giving up three runs and allowing two home runs.
On the year, Paxton is putting up quality numbers. He’s 9-5 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.065 WHIP. He’s pitching to a 3.06 FIP thanks to 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings and a strikeout to walk ratio of five. The Mariners are 13-9 when he makes the start.
The 29-year old southpaw has been particularly strong against the Houston Astros. He’s made three starts against Houston this year, winning all three and pitching to a 0.87 ERA in 20.2 innings of work. He’s allowed 15 hits and four walks in that time while striking out 21.
It’s a small sample size, but it’s enough to build some confidence for the lefty and put some doubt in the heads of the Astros hitters when they see him on the mound.
Of course, the Astros hitters aren’t likely to have to put too many runs on the board against Paxton with Verlander opposing him.
The 35-year old Verlander is still pitching like an ace. He’s 11-6 with a 2.19 ERA and 0.876 WHIP in 156.1 innings spread over 24 starts. He’s got a bitter strikeout rate, walk rate and FIP than Paxton and has been equally dominant in his last couple starts, going 18.2 innings in his last three outings, giving up three runs, four walks and 18 hits.
Despite sharing a division with the Mariners, Verlander hasn’t faced Seattle in any of his 24 starts this year, but is 12-8 with a 3.01 ERA in 24 career starts against the Mariners.
As of July 3, the Mariners were 24-games over-.500 and just a half game out of first place in the AL West. The success, however, was a bit of smoke and mirrors as the run differential for the Mariners painted a less pleasant picture. The Mariners were walking a tight rope, scoring just enough at just the right time to win. That’s since ended.
Since July 4, the Seattle Mariners are 9-17 and have dropped to third place behind Oakland and 6.5-games back of Houston in the division. After finding new ways to win over the first three months, the Mariners are now finding new ways to lose. The pitching has let Seattle down recently, allowing at least five runs in seven of their last nine games.
Offensively, Mitch Haniger has gone quiet since the All-Star game, batting .200 with one extra base hit in 15 games while Jean Segura is hitting .220 with a .242 OBP in that same time. Those are two key pieces to the offense that aren’t producing. While Dee Gordon and Nelson Cruz continue to rake, they’re not getting enough help around them for consistent offensive production.
Beefed Up Bullpen
Ignore the 0-3 record, but Seattle closer Edwin Diaz has had a great year in the back of the pen with a league leading 41 saves along with a 2.00 ERA and 1.40 FIP. He’s striking out 14.8 per nine innings and has a 0.778 WHIP as nobody can square him up.
The Mariners have a negative run differential despite a 64-48 record largely due to Seattle’s ability to win the close game and close out games they’re supposed to win. Some of that is because of clutch offense, but much of it can be attributed to the bullpen which has been beefed up as the season’s progressed.
Early on, the Mariners added Alex Colome who has a 2.84 ERA and 1.105 WHIP in 25.1 innings while setting up for Diaz. Meanwhile, at the deadline, Seattle added Sam Tuivailala, Zach Duke and Adam Warren to the mix, giving the team a few different looks. The new arms along with James Pazos, Chasen Bradford and Diaz give Seattle a strong bullpen to lock up the wins they should get. The issue will be getting the lead to that bullpen to close out.
Playing Short Handed
Injuries apparently come in bunches for the Astros who have both Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve on the disabled list and have George Springer battling a thumb injury.
Those injuries leave the Astros a bit short-handed up the middle. Marwin Gonzalez is a viable fill-in at one spot, but it’s hard to make up the offense lost from both Altuve and Correa add in Springer and it gets even worse.
On the season, Houston ranks third in total runs scored, but without three of the best players, the offense clearly takes a hit.
Tony Kemp is one player seeing added playing time due to injuries and he’s playing very well with a .288/.382/.418 slash line in 57 games. Evan Gattis, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, and Alex Bregman are all having strong offensive seasons, too. In fact, Bregman currently leads the Astros in WAR at 4.9 as the All-Star is batting .277 with a .382 OBP and .524 slugging percentage with 22 home runs, 36 doubles and 71 RBIs.
If any team can make up for the loss of three All-Star caliber players at the same time, it’s the Astros, but the once potent offense isn’t nearly as unbeatable with so many key players out of the order.
Moving out from the lineup, the Astros also have one of their key relievers in Chris Devenski on the DL and may see the bullpen weakened even further with Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock options to replace Lance McCullers Jr. in the rotation after he went on the DL with elbow issues.
Justifying Roberto Osuna
Heading into the trade deadline, it was assumed that the Astros would make an addition to their bullpen. Ken Giles faltered last October and was unable to regain his footing this season. Relegated to the minors, Hector Rondon was the surprise closer for much of the first half.
While Rondon performed admirably, the team needed to make an upgrade in the backend, but moves for Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia and others came and went without the Astros getting their upgrade. Finally, they made a move and brought in Robert Osuna.
The addition made sense on paper. Osuna was an All-Star last year and the 23-year old right-hander has already raked up 104 saves with a 2.87 career ERA and 0.919 career WHIP. He’s a dynamic closer and just the type of talent the team needs. The problem, however, is he’s just now coming off a 75-game suspension under the Major League Baseball domestic violence policy.
For a team that previously clung to a no tolerance policy, it’s created a lot of organizational backtracking and explanation with teammates getting questions, pulling attention away from the field and into more pressing social matters.
Heading back to the field, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out for Houston. The Astros stumbled last August after a disappointing trade deadline left them with Francisco Liriano and little else. It took a Justin Verlander acquisition to get things back on track. There’s no Verlander out there this year. Will the Osuna move have a similar impact on this team or will they overcome the media circus and criticism over the move and keep winning?
Seattle Mariners vs. Houston Astros Free Picks
With a pair of aces on the mound, this should be a low scoring game, particularly with the Mariners scoring three runs or less in six straight games prior to putting up a six-spot on Sunday. The Astros, meanwhile, are without their middle infield and have a number of other injuries eating into their World Series champion roster. Go with a low scoring game and take the under on the total number of runs. In terms of the winner, go with Houston to win the game at home despite the depleted roster. The Mariners are regressing fast while Houston is at least keeping its head above water.
Seattle Mariners vs. Houston Astros Pick: Bet the money line on the Houston Astros at home.
Seattle Mariners vs. Houston Astros Score Prediction: Astros 3, Mariners 2
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