Astros: Previewing key three-game series against Mariners

HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 20: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros celebrates with teammates after defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks at Minute Maid Park on September 20, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 20: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros celebrates with teammates after defeating the Arizona Diamondbacks at Minute Maid Park on September 20, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /
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Here’s what you need to know about the Houston Astros crucial series against the Seattle Mariners.

Now completely finished with their home schedule, the Houston Astros embark on what is potentially their most crucial series of the season thus far. As they cling to a four-game lead for the second-place spot in the AL West and its corresponding playoff berth, they head to Seattle to take on the Mariners.

The Mariners, of course, are the team trailing them most closely in the standings, so this series has the potential to make a huge impact on the Astros postseason hopes. A sweep would knock Seattle out of the race completely, leaving only the Angels standing in the way. On the flip side, getting swept would put the Astros in a rather precarious position.

Houston enters this series having taken two of three from each of the Rangers and Diamondbacks, thus allowing themselves to hang on to a decent lead. But they haven’t looked particularly strong against those two last-place teams, and the offense continues to struggle, especially against pitchers who are having bad seasons.

Seattle is coming off losing two of three to the Padres in a series that was scheduled to take place at T-Mobile Park but was moved to San Diego due to smoke from the western wildfires. The Astros are 6-1 against the Mariners this season, having taken three of four to open the season and then enjoying a three-game sweep in mid-August.

So this final road trip of the season will be the time to get things in sync. It’ll start tonight at 8:10 p.m. CT, and Tuesday’s game will also start at 8:10. The series finale on Wednesday will begin at 5:40. All three games will be broadcast locally on ATT SportsNet SW, with tonight’s opener showing out-of-market on MLB Network.

Pitching Matchups

Tonight’s opener will see Lance McCullers Jr. take the mound against lefthander Marco Gonzales. McCullers is 3-2 with a 4.87 ERA in nine starts, but is coming off a brilliant seven scoreless innings last time out. Gonzales has been Seattle’s best starter this year, going 6-2 with a 3.49 ERA in nine starts and walking only five batters all year. He allowed five runs in six innings in his last start.

Framber Valdez will get the ball for the Astros on Tuesday and will face Ljay Newsome. Valdez is 4-3 with a 3.82 ERA this season and struck out 11 batters while allowing just one run in his last outing. Newsome, a 23-year-old rookie, has a 6.35 ERA in three starts and one relief appearance. He allowed five runs in three innings in his last outing.

Zack Greinke takes the hill in the finale and will be opposed by Nick Margevicius. Greinke is 3-2 with a 3.90 ERA this year and gave up three runs in six innings last time out. Margevicius is 1-3 with a 5.35 ERA on the year, having allowed three runs in five innings in his last start.

Players to Watch

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We all know about Kyle Lewis by now, so keep an eye on a new face for the Mariners — infielder/DH Ty France. Acquired from the Padres at the trade deadline, he’s hit .296 with a pair of homers and an .832 OPS in 16 games for Seattle. The 26-year-old is getting a chance to show what he can do.

For the Astros, it’s their resident man on fire, George Springer. He’s hit safely in 17 of his past 18 games, compiling a .333 batting average with eight homers in that span. Houston needs to get a more consistent effort from its entire lineup, but Springer certainly hasn’t been the problem lately.

Astros Expectations

The team’s task here is simple — win this series and all but clinch a playoff berth. A sweep could actually clinch depending on what the Angels do, but given the way the Astros offense has hit lately, it might be too much to expect a sweep, especially on the road where they’re just 7-18 this season.

Given the way the Astros have played against the Mariners this year, though, anything less than taking two of three would be a complete disappointment. They have the chance to really stamp their ticket to the postseason, so it’ll be interesting to see just what they do.

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