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Mariners gave themselves a chance, but Astros’ pitching proves to be too much in sweep

Mariners LHP Marco Gonzales threw five shutout innings before Houston chased him. (AP)

A good offense can make some headway in Major League Baseball. A good offense flanked by strong starting pitching, a solid bullpen and reliable defense will go even farther.

Astros beat Mariners 3-2 to complete sweep

And that in a nutshell is why the Seattle Mariners, as hot as they were coming into Friday, saw their six-game win streak ended with a three-game sweep by the visiting Houston Astros.

The Mariners’ surprising offense has done some historic things early on this season, and they can continue to do so after Mitch Haniger’s home runs on Saturday and Sunday pushed their MLB record for consecutive games to start a season with a home run to 18. But after the bullpen gave up a pair of grand slams on Friday night in a 10-6 loss, Seattle’s hill became that much tougher to climb.

The first reason was Justin Verlander, the runner-up in last year’s American League Cy Young Award race. He led the way as the M’s were held to a season-low one run scored, finishing with 11 strikeouts in six innings.

The second reason was Gerrit Cole, who finished fifth last year in that same Cy Young race. On Sunday he made it through six innings himself, also striking out 11 and allowing just two runs.

There’s a third reason, too: Houston’s bullpen and overall pitching depth. When the Astros needed to keep the M’s from scoring on Friday night, they were able to turn to starter Brad Peacock in relief, who gave them 3 1/3 innings of one-run ball as Houston’s offense did the rest. That saved some of the Astros’ relief arms for Saturday and Sunday, and they made good use of them, receiving six combined shutout innings from Héctor Rondón, Ryan Pressly, Will Harris and Roberto Osuna.

Asking the Mariners’ pitching staff to hold opponents to two or less runs right now is too tall of a task, and as we’ve seen in games against lesser opponents, it’s a question that won’t need to be asked all the time. It will happen against teams like the Astros and the upcoming three-game set against Cleveland, however.

But at least credit the Mariners where credit is due.

The defense, which has been plenty shaky at times early on this season, was solid against Houston. The Mariners made the routine plays and a few that were a little more difficult, so the defense didn’t give the Astros any extra chances.

The bullpen held up its end of the bargain, as well.

Sure, Friday was rough, but Houston’s grand slams came off of Shawn Armstrong, who was making his first appearance of the season after coming off the DL, and Ruben Alaniz, who was making his MLB debut. Those are pretty big spots to be relying on relievers just trying to get their legs under them, but that’s where Seattle’s pen is right now.

The relievers otherwise were pretty good, giving up just one run – the decisive solo homer hit by Aledmys Diaz off Brandon Brennan in the seventh inning Sunday – over 6 2/3 combined innings in Games 2 and 3.

The starting pitchers kept Seattle in all of the games, as well. Félix Hernández had a quality start, allowing three runs over six innings on Saturday, and Marco Gonzales was cruising right along until he gave up two runs in the sixth on Sunday, giving way to the bullpen. Wade LeBlanc left Friday’s game with a lead, too, but his oblique injury will keep him out four to six weeks, which could be a major blow for a team already low in pitching depth.

So what went wrong for Seattle? Honestly, not much. There isn’t much room for mistakes when you’re playing the Astros, and there aren’t many offenses in baseball that can beat the efforts Houston put forward on Saturday and Sunday behind the nastiness that is Verlander and Cole on back-to-back days.

It was a weekend of good baseball played by the Mariners, but that isn’t always enough. It certainly wasn’t against a Houston team that came to Seattle on a six-game winning streak, leaves on a nine-game one and looks to be very much in contention to win a second World Series in three years.

The question now is if the Mariners’ offense can rebound with Cleveland set to throw Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco in two of the next three games.

Seattle didn’t abandon its Control the Zone philosophy against Houston, nor did it stop hitting dingers. It was all less effective against elite pitching, however. Whether or not the hitters can get back to producing after that setback will be very telling about the Mariners’ ability to turn their impressive start to 2019 into anything more than that.

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