Series Preview: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners, April 20-22, 2015
The Astros are in first place this late in the season (April 20) for the first time since 2007. Houston faces a Seattle team that rebounded from a rough start to the season with a series win over the Rangers this weekend. Newest Mariner, Nelson Cruz, made his mark early - he was 7-for-14 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI on his way to being named AL Player of the Week. Cruz already has 8 home runs in 48 at-bats in 2015.
For as good as Cruz has been at the plate, the Mariners' pitching staff has been just as bad. The team ERA through two weeks is 4.54, 7th-worst in Major League baseball.
The Astros were 6-4 last season at Safeco field including one come from behind walk-off win by the Mariners. Of the six wins, that includes Collin McHugh's first start as an Astros. On April 22, 2014, McHugh pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings and struck out 12 Mariners on route to a win. McHugh will make his third start of this season 364 days later from that start in Seattle.
Mariners Key Additions and Departures
The Mariners this offseason built upon their 2014 additions with Nelson Cruz and J.A. Happ. Robinson Cano has spent much of Spring Training before the 2014 season, calling for the Mariners to add one more bat. The only bat on the market at the time was Cruz, who ended up signed the Orioles. Cano only had to wait one season for Cruz's arrival.
As part of the Mariners push for the playoffs, Seattle has punted on a few locally grown players with potential for players with experience. The M's flipped Michael Saunders for a veteran arm J.A. Happ, and cut ties with first-round pick Justin Smoak.
Game 1: RHP Asher Wojciechowski (0-1, 4.50 ERA, 1.63 WHIP) vs. RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (0-1, 6.55 ERA, 1.64 WHIP)
Game 2: RHP Collin McHugh (2-0, 1.54 ERA 1.11 WHIP) vs. RHP Taijuan Walker (0-2, 17.18 ERA, 2.86 WHIP)
Game 3: RHP Roberto Hernandez (0-1, 3.38 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (0-1, 2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP)
Asher Wojciechowski gets a second shot at starting this young season after giving up four runs in four innings in his first career major league start and being skipped in his second start to serve as the long man. Wojo returns to the Astros after Brad Peacock went on the 15-Day disabled list with a left intercostal strain. The right-hander was solid in his long relief on April 13 before being sent down for Peacock, pitching four scoreless innings against Athletics. Wojo is pitching on seven days rest, as he did not make an appearance in the minors. Hisashi Iwakuma take the mound in game one for the M's, has struggled this season giving up four runs in both of his starts this season (11 IP). When facing Houston, Iwakuma has a 4-4 record with a 3.46 ERA in his career. He was 2-3 with a 5.40 ERA in five starts against the Astros last season.
Collin McHugh rides into Seattle on a nine-game winning streak dating back to the 2014 season. As previously mentioned he returns to where he made his first start as an Astro - 6 2/3 IP, 0 ER, 3 H, 0 BB,13 SO on April 22, 2014. McHugh is coming off a start with one earned runs through 5.2 innings with 11 SO, this appears to be an ideal matchup for McHugh to pick up his 10th win in-a-row. Countering McHugh, is upstart pitcher Taijuan Walker. Walker is another a case that proves Spring Training stats mean nothing, he allowed 2 earned runs over 27 innings this spring with 26 strikeouts and 5 walks. Thus far through 2015, Walker has allowed 14 earned runs through 7 1/3 innings pitched. The Astros may be just what the doctor ordered for Walker to right the ship, he is 3-0 with 2.91 ERA in four career starts against Houston.
Roberto Hernandez has earned his keep in the Astros lineup thus far in 2015, he has allowed four earned runs through 10 1/3 innings pitched. He'll need to continue that in hopes of holding off Peacock and Brett Obholtzer when both return from injury to keep his rotation spot. Former Astro J.A. Happ make his third start with the Mariners. He has been sharp thus far - posting back-to-back quality starts to begin the season. Happ is 2-0 with a 2.04 ERA in starts against Houston in his career, he allowed just one run through seven innings in his lone start against the Astros in 2014.
The Astros offense is slowly waking up, as always they are lead by Jose Altuve. The Astros second baseman is batting .400 in his last 20 at-bats. Jake Marisnick continues his hot start batting .308 in his last 13 at-bats, so is Luis Valbuena. Valbuena also added two home runs to his total during that stretch. Marwin Gonzalez is getting the start at first, he is batting 7-for-12 with a home run against Hisashi Iwakuma in his career.
Nelson Cruz is the AL Player of the Week, batting .500 in his last 20 at-bats with four home runs. Robinson Cano has also the season out hot, batting .476 with four extra-hits in his last 21 at-bats. Willie Bloomquist, Kyle Seager, and Austin Jackson are all batting over .300 in this past week.
At least on paper, the Astros have one win wrapped up with McHugh on the mound. The Astros are 14-8 all-time at Safeco Field. A series victory, 2-1, feels right.