Following Monday’s off day, the Astros now face off against the AL West-leading Mariners.
To be honest, I didn’t think it was likely that a team other than the Astros would lead the AL West in June. But baseball is a hard sport to predict. The strangest things can happen. Like, the Mariners leading the AL West in the first week of June.
That said, the Mariners’ current lead over the Astros is one game. If the two-game series goes the Astros’ way, then Houston would lead the division by Wednesday night. And the overall indicators still point the division to the Astros’ favor. For example, Houston has the best run differential in baseball at +122. The Mariners have a run differential of +17. FanGraphs currently gives the Astros a 94.1% chance of winning the division while the Mariners are at 4%.
But the Astros have to start playing better. In fact, Houston has not played well over the past ten games while Seattle has been winning.
Last 10 Games
While I will not call a game in early June to be crucial to the season’s overall success, it would be calming to see a quick sweep. Will it happen? Probably not. But it would be nice.
Game 1: LHP Dallas Keuchel (3-7, 3.65 ERA) vs. LHP James Paxton (4-1, 3.13 ERA)
Game 2: RHP Lance McCullers (7-3, 3.89 ERA) vs. LHP Wade LeBlanc (1-0, 2.60 ERA)
Keuchel gets the nod for Tuesday’s start opposing the Mariners’ Paxton. A battle of the southpaws. For both Keuchel and Paxton, there will be their second start of the season against the opposing lineups on the same day. In his first start, the Astros’ bearded lefty tossed eight innings of two-run, but ended up with the loss. Another reason why a pitcher’s win-loss record is a terribly ineffective way to measure true performance. Paxton fared better against the Astros that same game as he threw six-innings of one-run ball. Hopefully the second time around will not be a repeat of history for Houston.
The second game features McCullers facing off against the 33-year old LeBlanc. The one-time Astro, LeBlanc, from 2013. Yes, the Astros, and LeBlanc, have come a long way.
McCullers, like Keuchel, will see the Mariners’ lineup for a second time this season. In his lone start, the age-24 pitcher held Seattle to only one run over seven innings while striking out 11. It was one of McCullers’ best starts this season. LeBlanc will see the Astros for the third time in 2018, yet the first time as a starter. In four previous innings, LeBlanc surrendered four runs on five hits and two walks.
In terms of overall attention, the Astros’ bullpen will be under a microscope in this short-series. Following a gauntlet of playoff caliber teams on the schedule, the bullpen now has a chance to rediscover its groove in the coming weeks. But a word of caution: the Mariners are not a pushover club.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and MLB.com**