Astros: Five key takeaways from series sweep of Mariners

Houston Astros, Kyle Tucker (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Houston Astros, Kyle Tucker (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

Here are our five key takeaways from the Houston Astros sweep of the Mariners.

There’s nothing like a nice series sweep to make you feel good about the trajectory of your season. Though it came against the last-place Seattle Mariners, the Houston Astros will take it regardless, as it’s moved them back above the .500 mark as we’re only nine games away from being halfway through the regular season.

Of course the return of Yordan Alvarez was a big story, as he hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat of the season on Friday. The offense erupted in the first game, but the pitching was the real story, as the Astros gave up a total of four runs in the three-game series.

Framber Valdez had a shaky first inning in Friday’s 11-1 victory but settled down to throw six innings of one-run ball to get his first win of the season. Cristian Javier allowed only one hit in six scoreless frames in a close 2-1 win on Saturday, and Lance McCullers, Jr put up 5.2 solid innings on Sunday. Kyle Tucker finished off the sweep with a walk-off homer to give the team a 3-2 win.

Now 11-10 on the season, the Astros are in sole possession of second place in the AL West and will welcome the Colorado Rockies to town for two games and then play two more in Denver. The Rockies are 13-8 on the season but 5-5 in their last 10 games. In the meantime, here are our five key takeaways from the Mariners series.

Bullpen Steps Up

The much-maligned Houston bullpen looked pretty good these past three games. In total, the relievers tossed 9.1 innings and allowed only one run, which was a solo homer off lefthander Brooks Raley on Saturday.

The Astros now have Joe Biagini back from the IL, with Brandon Bailey and his 2.45 ERA sent back to Corpus Christi. Brad Peacock, Chris Devenski and Jose Urquidy aren’t too far behind, so the makeup of the bullpen could change. Struggling pitchers Cy Sneed and Josh James turned in scoreless outings in this series, so it’ll be interesting to see who gets sent back down when the veterans return.

Starters Look Solid

To say the pitching carried the team in this series would be an understatement. It’s true that it came against a last-place team, but it’s nonetheless impressive that the starters combined to allow three runs on eight hits in 17.2 innings.

For a team that’s missing its ace, the Astros have been getting surprisingly good outings from their starters. The rookies, Javier and Brandon Bielak, have been a revelation, and Zack Greinke is as good as ever. Valdez is coming into his own and McCullers has been up and down but is capable of anything.

Pressly Turned a Corner?

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One thing that’s really helped the team in this series is that Ryan Pressly is looking more like his old self. After battling minor injuries and getting shelled a couple of times this season, he pitched in two straight games and threw a perfect inning each time, earning the save on Saturday and the win on Sunday.

The rest of the bullpen is starting to take shape, as rookies Blake Taylor and Enoli Paredes look like potential late-inning go-to guys, and Andre Scrubb has been pitching well also. If Pressly can stay healthy and pitch like we know he can, the Astros will still have a bona fide closer even without the injured Roberto Osuna.

Alvarez’s Presence Helps

How much does Yordan Alvarez mean to this lineup? His three-run homer in his first at-bat on Friday was part of a nine-run first inning for the Astros. It was one of only two hits Alvarez had this series, as he sat out the finale to rest his troublesome knees.

Still, having his bat in the lineup means a great deal. It not only lengthens the batting order but adds a bona fide power threat, one unlike anyone else the team has. He’s a true slugger in every sense of the word. If he can stand up there and hit, it makes all the difference in the world.

Gurriel on a Hot Streak

The soon-to-be free agent Yuli Gurriel isn’t looking much like a 36-year-old at this point. He homered twice in the Mariners series to give him five on the season and is hitting .280 with a .923 OPS. In only 21 games, he’s already been worth about one full win above replacement, per Baseball-Reference’s stats. By contrast, he was worth 3.9 in 144 games in 2019.

Gurriel has been one of the key contributors for this team so far and is again playing solid defense at first base. The Astros have Taylor Jones waiting in the wings and will likely offer big money to George Springer this offseason. If Gurriel continues to play at this level, he could command more money than the team might be willing to give him.