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MLB.com Astros reporter: Why Houston may be even tougher than last year for Mariners

Gerrit Cole will match up for the Astros against the Mariners on Wednesday. (AP)

The Houston Astros won their first World Series last season, and they weren’t about to get caught resting on their laurels in 2018.

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Ahead of the Mariners’ four-game series hosting the Astros, MLB.com Astros reporter Brian McTaggart joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton to explain why Houston may actually have an even stronger team this season.

“It’s way better for a couple reasons, and it starts on the pitcher’s mound,” McTaggart said. “They added Gerrit Cole in the offseason and he’s been unbelievable so far through three starts. They have Justin Verlander for an entire season and he’s been terrific.”

Cole, acquired over the offseason in a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates, has allowed just three runs while striking out 36 in his first three starts (21 innings) with Houston. Meanwhile, Verlander is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA and 34 strikeouts through four starts (26 2/3 innings) this season, and the Astros have one more starting pitcher off to a stellar start: Charlie Morton, who is 2-0 and allowed just two runs while striking out 25 over three starts (18 innings).

“Their starting pitching with those three guys has been tremendous. If Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers get it going a little bit, it’s a rotation like I’ve never seen,” McTaggart said.

Keuchel, by the way, is a one-time Cy Young Award winner, and the 24-year-old McCullers may have the highest ceiling of any Houston pitcher and has given the Mariners fits in nine starts against them (5-2, 2.96 ERA, 59 strikeouts over 48 2/3 innings).

The Mariners will face each of those pitchers except Verlander in their four-game set with their American League West rivals.

You can hear the full interview with McTaggart in this podcast of Clayton’s show Monday.

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John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle
  • Tune in to 710 ESPN Seattle weekdays at 10am for John Clayton's show.