The Seattle Mariners have just beaten Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton in order. Three All Star pitchers, Cy Young candidates, as dominant a pitching trio as baseball has seen since the 1990’s Atlanta Braves. The Seattle Mariners beat all three. Three stoppers, mostly through no fault of their own, have failed to stop. The Mariners have breached the walls of the Great Houston Pitching Fortress. Will the barbarians sack our city?
I know, over dramatic as usual. The Astros still hold a five game lead over the Mariners in the AL West, although the lead over 2nd place Oakland is now only 3.5 games. But what are these teams doing even close to our beloved dynasty?
Somehow, after the one and only championship in the history of the Astros, I think many of us have become spoiled, thinking the road to another championship would be as easy as it was last year; that is, without divisional competition. I think the lesson of this series, and the most recent series at home with the A’s in which they took 3 of 4, is that the road to the 2018 AL West championship will be a struggle. It will NOT be easy. The Astros could even find themselves in a position of fighting from behind late in the season. The pitching firewall is not impregnable. The bats must do their part.
The Mariners are now 44-17 in one run games. This run of luck was supposed to end long ago. What if such a winning streak continues six more weeks, and regression doesn’t occur until next year? Then the Mariners will continue to threaten.
What about the Oakland A’s? I will not get into detailed analysis here in what is about to be a game recap, but a couple simple statistics should illustrate the threat. Since the All Star break The A’s hitters have a .795 OPS. The Astros are hitting .711. But the OPS against the A’s staff is only .659. The Astros staff has been worse; .685.
Since the break, the Astros are 9-10. The A’s are 14-6
Is this sustainable? Time will tell. I think it would be foolish to assume it isn’t. Every year some Cinderella emerges unexpectedly to challenge the establishment and the established wisdom. Its baseball, like the Miracle Mets. The 2015 Astros were such a team. The World Champions may be contending with two such teams within their own division. Buckle up, four points of contact. It looks like a wild ride.
Of course, there’s another castle wall yet to be breached, the return of the superstars, just in time to vanquish the barbarians. Hopefully that happens. George Springer doesn’t seem far away, although Jose Altuve’s rapid return seems more doubtful. Assuming the Astros return to health soon, how quickly will they return to top form? Carlos Correa’s struggles the last two games highlights the uncertainty.
In the meantime there are too many other Astros hitters who need to wake up their bats. These are last fourteen days OPS stats for the following players: Alex Bregman, .753. Yuli Gurriel, .371. Evan Gattis, who is 0 for his last 15 PA’s, and .650 in the last 14 days. The team has been relying on the now injured Jake Marisnick, Marwin Gonzalez, Tony Kemp and Tyler White. As this present series shows, that is not enough.
Today’s game followed an all too familiar recent pattern, the inability to string together hits as well as the Mariners did. The Astros did get three straight hits in the second inning, with two base runners scoring on a Tyler White single. He continued his hot hitting, going 1-2 with a walk and two RBI.
The Astros had only five hits all game.
The Mariner’s were just a little better. With two outs in the fourth, Nelson Cruz singled, Kyle Seager doubled, Chris Hermann tripled, and Ryan Healy singled in the winning run.
Despite a quality start, Charlie Morton would be the losing pitcher, going six innings, allowing 3 runs, 7 hits, one walk and notching 4 strikeouts. Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, Roberto Osuna, and Carlos Rondon would complete the game with three scoreless innings total.
Seattle starter Wade LeBlanc would get the win, and all too monotonously, Edwin Diaz would get the save, his third this series, and his 45th of the year.
The Astros did have one stolen opportunity to tie this game. In the eighth inning, with Derek Fisher pinch running on first base and taking off on the pitch, Tony Kemp hit what looked like a sure double to right center field. Improbably, center fielder Guillermo Heredia made a diving catch, got up, and doubled up the sitting duck Fisher before he could return to first base.
This is the seventh straight home loss for the Astros, but I ranted about that yesterday.
Tomorrow is Dallas Keuchel’s turn to be the stopper. He goes against Erasmo Ramirez, who is taking the place of “King” Felix Hernandez in the rotation tomorrow. In limited time he is 0-2 with a 10.24 ERA. Time for the bats to break out and put the Mariners back in their place.
Game time 1:10 CDT.
Box score and videos here.