BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Mariners showed they can score without HR, must do so again vs Astros

Oct 11, 2022, 8:18 AM
Mariners Astros...
Adam Frazier of the Seattle Mariners hits an RBI double against Jordan Romano of the Toronto Blue Jays to take the lead in game two of the American League Wild Card Series on October 08, 2022. (Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
(Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

After completing one of the biggest and craziest comebacks in MLB playoff history, the Mariners are set to take on the American League West champion Houston Astros in the ALDS in a showdown between two less-than-friendly division foes.

Drayer: Mariners put their stamp on playoffs with signature chaos

To get to Houston, the Mariners won each of their Wild Card round games over the Toronto Blue Jays in very different ways.

Game 1 saw Seattle lean on ace starter Luis Castillo dominate the Jays while getting a three-run cushion in the first inning. The Mariners took that game 4-0.

Luis Castillo does the nearly impossible as Mariners silence Blue Jays

Game 2 was a dramatic game that saw the M’s fall behind 8-1 after five innings before clawing back and scoring five runs in the final two innings to complete the largest road comeback in MLB playoff history.

Mariners have no shortage of heroes in incredible sweep of Blue Jays

I think that looking at how Seattle completed that historic Game 2 comeback is pretty important when looking at the team’s matchup with Houston.

These two teams are, obviously, no strangers to each other, facing off numerous times every season.

No team in baseball has been consistently better than Astros in recent years as they’ve won the division five of the last six years, have made three of the last five World Series and have been in the ALCS five years in a row.

The Mariners are now out of rebuild mode, and as you may imagine or remember, they took a lot of losses at the hands of the Astros in recent years, and while this year’s season series was more competitive, Houston won 12 of the 19 games. Overall, the Astros went 106-56, the second-best record in MLB and the best record in the American League.

So what exactly do the Astros have to do with how the Mariners won Game 2? Well, it’s all about the long ball, or lack thereof.

In the M’s 10-run scoring effort, they did get a 3-run homer from Carlos Santana, but seven of their runs were manufactured via hits, walks and productive outs. Eugenio Suárez and Cal Raleigh had big hits that didn’t leave the yard, and the two biggest hits of the day – which from J.P. Crawford and Adam Frazier – were doubles. Heck, Seattle’s first run was a sacrifice fly from Jarred Kelenic.

And even in the first game, Julio Rodríguez started the game with a hit by pitch, Ty France moved him over with a productive groundout and then Suárez drove the rookie in with a single. Later, Suárez drove Rodríguez in again with a fielder’s choice.

Why is all that so notable? Well, the Mariners will be the first to tell you that home runs are a critical part in how they have success at the plate. Walks and home runs were huge for the team this year.

“We throw strikes, we pitch really well, we take walks and we hit homers,” Mariners GM Justin Hollander told Bump and Stacy last week prior to the team’s opener in Toronto. “Those are the things that really drive postseason success — getting on base, hitting homers throwing strikes, missing bats. Those are the things that we do really well.”

In 2022, Seattle was 28th in batting, but 16th in on-base percentage, 17th in slugging and 13th in OPS while coming in at 18th in runs scored.

A big reason those latter four numbers are so much higher than the team’s batting average is because the Mariners finished ninth in baseball in home runs, and had four players with 20 or more dingers.

While Santana’s Game 2 blast was critical in getting the M’s back in the game, the five runs they scored in the final two innings were thanks to moving the line by stringing hits and baserunners together, and the big hit not being a big fly.

What does that have to do with Houston? Well, the Astros’ pitching staff may have been the best in baseball this year, and that’s especially true of their ability to keep the ball in the ballpark.

Houston finished second in ERA as one of two teams in MLB with a sub-3.00 team ERA, and allowed the second-fewest home runs in baseball.

The Astros have a fantastic starting rotation, led by future Hall of Famer and likely 2022 Cy Young winner Justin Verlander. Framber Valdez was also an All-Star this year, and of the five Houston starters to make 25 or more starts, the worst individual ERA was Jose Urquidy’s at 3.94.

And as good as the Astros’ rotation has been, their bullpen has arguably been better.

Per Covers.com, Houston relievers ranked first in ERA, fifth in WHIP, fourth in walks and were tied for the fewest home runs allowed in 2022.

Can the long ball still be a factor for the Mariners? Absolutely. There’s no quicker way to pile runs together than hitting the ball out of the ballpark.

But given the Astros’ elite pitching numbers this year, it definitely appears that the Mariners will need to string some hits and walks together to get runs on the board rather than the usual “bloop and a blast” we’ve often seen from this team in its wins this season.

What we saw from the Mariners’ bats in Toronto should be a good sign that they can do just that, and getting consistent traffic on the bases will be instrumental in keeping the Astros out of the ALCS for the first time since 2016.

More Mariners-Astros coverage by Seattle Sports

• Fann: 2 questions that will define M’s ALDS chances vs Astros
• Drayer’s Notebook: ALDS start can’t come soon enough for Logan Gilbert
• M’s Breakdown: The comeback, the sweep, and facing the Astros
• Why M’s could get creative with their pitchers in ALDS vs Astros
• How did M’s make it this far? Same reason they could keep going
• Mariners ALDS schedule, Astros matchup and radio broadcast details

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Mariners showed they can score without HR, must do so again vs Astros