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2020 Series Preview #1: Seattle Mariners @ Houston Astros

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The Houston Astros open the 2020 season with a four game set against the Seattle Mariners

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

The long, strange wait for the 2020 season is finally at an end as Opening Day for the Astros is upon us. Things will be different in a pandemic-shortened season. We will have expanded postseason play, runners on base to start extra innings, and batter minimums for pitchers. But it’s baseball. Something to look forward to each day as you watch your favorite team march towards its ultimate destiny for 2020. A part of me is happy that this day is finally upon us.

And yet, a part of me is uncertain. I’m looking forward to meaningful games again, but it’s hard to get too excited about a season that I’m not even sure will be completed. I can only hope that baseball players remain disciplined and responsible when it comes to their behavior and we can have a fun 3 months as the teams play to what will certainly be a different type of season.

But, for the moment at least, it feels good to say “Play ball, thank God, play ball.”

Mariners

MLB: Seattle Mariners-Workouts Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Narrative

With only two position players with more than 600 at-bats currently on the Mariners’ roster, this year will be more about the future than the present for the team’s long-suffering fanbase. Even with news coming down just yesterday that the playoffs are being expanded, the team is regularly projected to end the season near the bottom of the pile and continuing their record-long playoff drought.

This is partially due to a full shift to rebuilding after Seattle spent several years flirting with relevancy in the division, but never quite delivering on that promise. As if to punctuate that, the 2019 team started off the season red-hot before falling quite suddenly off a cliff and jump-starting the current youth movement. Now, with six rookies filling out the M’s lineup, there’s not much there in the way of superstar power for Seattle.

Projected lineup

1) Shed Long Jr., 2B
2) Evan White, 1B
3) Kyle Seager, 3B
4) Kyle Lewis, RF
5) José Marmolejos, LF
6) Austin Nola, C
7) Daniel Vogelbach, DH
8) J.P. Crawford, SS
9) Mallex Smith, CF

That’s not to say that there aren’t veterans. Kyle Seager and Dee Gordon will be the Mariners’ wisdom corps this season, though Gordon will be filling a bench-player role. Daniel Vogelbach and Mallex Smith are also holdovers from last year. Smith is more valuable as a defensive center fielder than a batter though, while Vogelbach took some big steps back at the plate during the second half of 2019.

As for the rookies themselves, there’s a lot of hype surrounding Kyle Lewis, who looks poised to have a breakout season in 2020, possibly even as a dark horse ROY candidate. Evan White is also someone marked for future success after the Mariners signed him to a 6-year, $24 million contract. White is jumping directly to the majors after spending last season at AA. Both players have enjoyed strong summer camps with the Mariners. However, they have yet to really face Major League pitching this year since the M’s didn’t play any exhibition games.

The rest of the lineup and bench is made up of relative unknowns that the Mariners are hoping can take their development a step forward at the major league level. The catching corps in particular has only had 8 MLB at bats between both players thanks to earmarked started Tom Murphy going on the IL just this week.

The Bullpen

Dan Altavilla, Brandon Brennan, Nestor Cortes, Carl Edwards Jr., Zac Grotz, Matt Magill, Nick Margevicius, Anthony Misiewicz, Yohan Ramirez, Bryan Shaw, Taylor Williams

The bullpen is also a question mark for Seattle as they carry 11 pitchers but with no designated closer. Late-inning situations will probably be handled by a mix of Matt Magill and Dan Altavila, who both have experience if not a tremendous body of work at the MLB level. Like the Astros, the Mariners’ pen has been hit by injury with Austin Adams starting the season with a knee injury. Free-agent acquisition Yoshihisa Hirano will also be unavailable after returning from the IL thanks to a bout with COVID.

As per the 2020 rules, Seattle will bring a three-man taxi squad to Houston along with its roster of players. With no minor league teams playing this season, the taxi squads will serve as an immediate pool for traveling teams to draw from should it prove necessary. For the M’s this will be extra reliever Taylor Guilbeau, catcher Joe Odom, and utility man Sam Haggerty.

While there’s not a whole lot of expectation for this young group of players, with a shortened season and the playoffs expanding dramatically you can’t really count any team out. The Mariners have certainly shown some short-term power in previous seasons, but I wouldn’t put money on it for 2020.

Astros

MLB: Exhibition-Houston Astros at Kansas City Royals Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Narrative

Ho boy.

After coming within 8 outs of their second championship in 3 years, everything has taken a decided turn for the worse for the team. The offseason revealed a cheating scandal that has rocked the baseball world and turned the Astros into scapegoats for everything that is wrong with the sport. While they did it to themselves by engaging in the activity, it has been very annoying watching the unending overreaction across sports media.

Expect that any time the Astros are plunked there will be stories and tweets to the rafters as media companies try to milk the cheating scandal for all they can. Even though the Astros will not have to hear real boos from fans in the stand, I expect the team to be excoriated across social media for the entirety of 2020 as fans and reporters demand a pound of flesh for past crimes.

Still though, the Astros are a team professionals and veterans who who can hopefully keep their focus between the chalk instead of what’s on their smartphones.

Projected lineup

1) George Springer, CF
2) Jose Altuve, 2B
3) Alex Bregman, 3B
4) Michael Brantley, LF
5) Yuli Gurriel, 1B
6) Carlos Correa, SS
7) Josh Reddick, RF
8) Aledmys Díaz / Kyle Tucker, DH
9) Martín Maldonado, C

There aren’t a whole lot of surprises with the lineup this season as the Astros managed to keep their core players intact for yet another year. 2020 might be that last one though as George Springer, Michael Brantley and Yuli Gurriel all expect to become free agents in 2021.

While they’re here though, the team boasts one of the deepest lineups in the league and should continue to menace pitchers as the season goes on. Most serious projections have the Astros winning the division again based mostly on the lineup retaining its edge. There also won’t seem to be much tinkering with the batting order as the biggest change since the 2019 playoffs is Dusty Baker swapping Bregman and Brantley in the 3-4 spots.

Jose Altuve should be in the lineup even after having his knee banged up in Kansas City. He’ll look to replicate a strong 2019 and continue to show why the Astros gave him a healthy extension in 2018. Meanwhile, Correa will need to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season as his IL stints have become an ongoing occurrence throughout his young career.

Yordan Alvarez remains on the IL with an injury that the Astros have been close-lipped about, though most are convinced it has to do with the knee issues he was having last season. In his place, Aledmys Diaz and Kyle Tucker will split time at DH for lefty and righty pitchers, respectively. Tucker will need to prove that all the faith the Astros have placed him in has been worthwhile.

The Bullpen

Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Joe Biagini, Chris Devenski, Bryan Abreu, Cy Sneed, Blake Taylor, Cristian Javier, Enoli Paredes, Brandon Bailey

The Astros have officially come off the pitching high that they have been enjoying for the past few seasons. The team lost the services of Will Harris and Gerrit Cole during the offseason and, while the product on the field is still strong, those arms are not so easy to replace.

On top of that the pitching in general is missing a few pieces. Roberto Osuna arrived to camp late and isn’t quite ready to assume the closer duties, which means that Ryan Pressly will take over the 9th inning spot. Brad Peacock and Austin Pruitt are both suffering from ailments as well and will begin the season on the IL. Jose Urquidy has yet to show up to camp as well and is dealing with a mystery condition.

All of this has opened the door for a few young guns to get a chance in the pen. Taylor, Javier, Paredes and Baily are all making their MLB debuts this season while Abreu has only played in 7 MLB games previously. Devo and Biagini also return this season along with Cy Sneed, who saw a lot of Minute Maid Park’s bullpen but not much of its mound in 2019.

The bullpen remains the Astros’ weak point heading into the season and certainly appears to be a target for upgrade once the trade deadline rolls around. Meanwhile, the pressure will be on the bats to prove that they can have success without trash can bangs.

Pitching Matchups

MLB: Houston Astros-Workouts Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Game 1: Marco Gonzales, LHP (0-0, -.—ERA) vs Justin Verlander, RHP (0-0, -.—ERA)

Gonzales is making his second straight Opening Day start for the Mariners and is being thrust directly into the fire. Gonzales faced the Astros four times last season and went 0-2 with a 5.66 ERA. Against the Astros he has a career ERA of 7.36 and has yet to notch a win. Gonzales was a solid rotation anchor for the Mariners other than his games against the Astros in 2019, pitching a 3.99 ERA across 34 games and 203 innings.

The Astros will grace Justin Verlander with his 12th Opening Day start today. The reigning AL Cy Young winner had 34 starts of his own in 2019 where he logged 300 strikeouts, a 2.58 ERA, and a 0.80 WHIP in 223 innings. He got off to a rocky start in Spring Training, injuring his groin before getting surgery to repair the damage. He has since debuted new mechanics designed to increase longevity, which looked pretty good in a couple of intrasquad scrimmages during camp.

Game 2: Taijuan Walker, RHP (0-0, -.— ERA) vs Lance McCullers, Jr., RHP (0-0, -.— ERA)

Taijuan Walker is making his second debut with the Mariners after being traded to the Diamondbacks during the 2016 season. Walker had shown promise when he was traded, but has been sidelined since 2018 thanks to Tommy John surgery. 2017, his last full season, was a good year for him with a 3.49 ERA across 157.1 innings. He’s on a one-year make-good contract with the Mariners to prove he can come all the way back from TJ.

Lance McCullers is in a similar situation, returning to the game after a year off, though he did pitch significantly in 2018. That year he went 10-6 with a 3.86 ERA, pitching into the postseason even though he knew he needed surgery. McCullers will slide into the #2 spot for the Astros this season behind Justin Verlander, showing what faith the organization has in this young arm.

Game 3: Yusei Kikuchi, LHP (0-0, -.— ERA) vs Zack Greinke, RHP (0-0, -.— ERA)

Kikuchi is starting the second year of his contract after coming over from Japan in 2019. He had a shaky debut season last year, pitching to a 5.46 ERA in 161.2 innings. Kikuchi is 0-2 lifetime against the Astros, with a 5.40 ERA in four starts. He did look good in his final start at the Mariners camp this summer, but time will tell if he can take a step forward in his sophomore year.

Greinke will take the mound at Minute Maid Park for the first time since Game 7 of the World Series. A trade deadline acquisition for the Astros in 2019, Greinke helped the team enormously down the stretch, shoring up the rotation and helping to cushion the loss of Gerrit Cole. He played in 10 regular season games for the Astros last year, going 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA.

Game 4: Kendall Graveman, RHP (0-0, -.— ERA) vs Josh James, RHP (0-0, -.— ERA)

Like Taijuan Walker, Kendall Graveman is making his return after two full seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. He may seem familiar to Astros fans after Graveman was the 2016 and 2017 Opening Day starter for the A’s. Also like Walker, Graveman is on a one-year deal to try and prove he still belongs in the majors.

Josh James will start the season in the #4 rotation spot while Jose Urquidy continues to recover from his mystery ailment. James was previously a starter in the minors so the move is a return to his roots after spending all last season in the bullpen. Josh has an impressive fastball and has added a curveball back into his repertoire to help improve his chances as a starter.

For Your Viewing and Listening Pleasure

Game 1: Friday, July 24th @ 8:10 pm CDT
Listen: Mariners - 710 ESPN, Mariners Radio Network / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, KTRH 740 AM/99.1 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM
Watch: Mariners - ROOTNW / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW

Game 2: Saturday, July 25th @ 3:10 pm CDT
Listen: Mariners - 710 ESPN, Mariners Radio Network / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM
Watch: Mariners - ROOTNW / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW

Game 3: Sunday, July 26th @ 1:10 pm CDT
Listen: Mariners - 710 ESPN, Mariners Radio Network / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM
Watch: Mariners - ROOTNW / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW

Game 4: Monday, July 27th @ 6:10 pm CDT
Listen: Mariners - 710 ESPN, Mariners Radio Network / Astros - KBME 790 AM/94.5 FM HD-2, KTRH 740 AM/99.1 FM HD-2, La Ranchera 101.7 FM/850 AM
Watch: Mariners - ROOTNW / Astros - ATT SportsNet-SW

Poll

Who wins this series?

This poll is closed

  • 34%
    Astros Sweep 4-0
    (43 votes)
  • 59%
    Astros Win 3-1
    (74 votes)
  • 2%
    Series Tie 2-2
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    Mariners Win 3-1
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    Mariners Sweep 4-0
    (1 vote)
124 votes total Vote Now