Gallant: Similarities between Mariners and 2015 Astros, who emerged as surprise contender
I think I’ve seen this before. It could be déjà vu. Maybe I’m hopelessly hopeful since the season just started. And opening day’s Angels in the Outfield-esque walk to a win is making me think that luck is finally on the Mariners’ side. But I see a lot of similarities between the 2021 Seattle Mariners and the 2015 Houston Astros, a team I watched firsthand.
Before they became baseball’s bin banging bad boys, the Astros were a laughing stock. Their first four seasons in the American League were a miserable collection of 600+ games, featuring highlights like Jonathan Villar sliding head first into Brandon Phillips’ butt. But thanks to some performance-enhanced draft picks – when you’re bad, those early draft picks sure can add up – they slowly stocked up on prospects and found themselves a few outs away eliminating the eventual World Series Champion Kansas City Royals.
“Classic PAWL, banging the company drum. You think THIS FRANCHISE with THIS HISTORY is about to put together a dream season?”
I’m not sure I’d go that far. But I’m not about to put a ceiling on it either. And neither was Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto this week when he joined us for his weekly visit on Danny and Gallant.
“I think the systems typically get it generally right when they’re projecting win totals overall. They get teams in the right ‘bucket,’ and then when you look in the bucket of young clubs in a league, this is where the surprises usually come from,” he said. “You can look back at so many of the teams that have come out of rebuilds over these last handful of years, teams like the Braves and like the Astros and like the Cubs, and generally speaking they were a year ahead of their projections.”
The ’15 Astros were a surprise. No one expected them to turn the corner after a 19 game improvement from 2013 to 2014 still saw them finish just 70-92. But I was struck by José Altuve’s mentality both during and after the 2014 campaign.
“Everyone knows we’ve been trying to rebuild,” said Altuve, then the clear leader of a young Astros squad, in a Sports Illustrated article. “I think we’ve reached the point where we have rebuilt. I believe we have a very good shot to be in the playoffs.”
“PAWL. GIVE IT A REST. ONE – THE ASTROS ARE CHEATERS. AND TWO – YOU DO NOT LIVE THERE ANYMORE.”
I know, I know. But that line is eerily similar to something Marco Gonzales said a few weeks ago.
“I’ve never been a fan of being told when it’s okay to win,” said the M’s ace. “But I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people. I think we’re going to be the team that they’re going to look up halfway through the year and say ‘Where did they come from?’ We’re prepared to make a statement in this division. I stand by that.”
The Mariners only played 60 games in 2020’s pandemic shortened season, and still finished under .500. But there’s no denying that they were a much more competitive team than anyone expected last season, finishing the year just two games behind the defending American League Champions in the AL West.
Want some more similarities? Marco Gonzales game – location, not velocity based – has a lot of similarities in game to former Houston Ace Dallas Keuchel. Taylor Trammell – the 35th overall pick in 2016 – could play the role of an outfielder who came into his own his first full season in the majors: All-Star George Springer.
And the Astros became a legitimate threat when their ultra-hyped prospect Carlos Correa joined the team in June. I’m hoping Jarred Kelenic can play that part.
The Mariners have gone about their rebuild in a fashion similar to that of the Astros, Braves, and Cubs. I wouldn’t be shocked if 2021 turns out to be a surprising re-enactment of Houston in 2015.