Astros: Previewing the four-game series against the Mariners

Here’s a look at the Houston Astros season-opening series against the Mariners.

At long last, after months and months of waiting, we have real regular-season baseball from our Houston Astros. They can put the memory of the bitter World Series loss behind them tonight as they open the season at Minute Maid Park against the Seattle Mariners.

First pitch is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. CT, with Saturday’s game at 3:10, Sunday’s at 1:10 and Monday’s at 6:10. The Astros are the clear favorites in this series as they’re the presumptive favorite to win the division and went 18-1 against the Mariners in 2019. We noted in our AL West preview that Seattle doesn’t seem to have improved from last season’s club.

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Pitching Matchups

Tonight’s opener will see Justin Verlander take the hill against Marco Gonzales. Verlander is coming off winning his second Cy Young Award, going 21-6 with a 2.58 ERA and 300 strikeouts in 223 innings. Gonzales, a 28-year-old left-hander, went 16-13 with a 3.99 ERA in 203 innings over 34 starts, striking out 147.

Saturday’s game will have Lance McCullers Jr. facing off against Taijuan Walker. McCullers missed all of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery and owns a career 3.67 ERA in four seasons. The right-handed Walker is in his first season back in Seattle after three years with the Diamondbacks. He’s thrown just 14 major league innings the past two years due to injuries and has a career 3.95 ERA in 94 starts and three relief appearances.

Zack Greinke will toe the rubber on Sunday against left-hander Yusei Kikuchi. Greinke went 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA after the Astros acquired him at the 2019 trade deadline and went 18-5 with a 2.98 ERA overall. Kikuchi, in his first year in the majors, went 6-11 with a 5.46 ERA in 32 starts last season.

On Monday, Josh James will take the mound for Houston and match up against Kendall Graveman. James pitched mostly in relief last year and went 5-1 with a 4.70 ERA but struck out 100 batters in 61.1 innings. Graveman, a 29-year-old right-hander, did not pitch in 2019 after having Tommy John surgery and owns a career 4.38 ERA in five seasons.

Players To Watch

For the Astros, it’s George Springer. He was completely locked in over the past week in the exhibition and intrasquad games, so he seems the most likely to get off to a hot start. He also is a free agent at season’s end, so he’s got even more to play for.

For the Mariners, keep an eye on first baseman Evan White. The 2017 first round draft pick will be making his major league debut after signing a six-year contract extension in November with an additional three option years. He played last season at Double-A but his bat has a ton of potential and he’s a plus defender.

Astros Expectations

While it’s difficult to sweep a four-game series, the Astros should have the expectation of at least taking three of these four games. They are superior to the Mariners in pretty much every way, and anything less than a resounding series win will be a disappointment.

This will be a good opportunity for the many young pitchers the Astros are carrying to get their first major league experience under their belts. It’s time to separate the men from the boys, and this is the time for them to step up.

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