JOE FANN

Fann: 2 questions that will define Mariners’ ALDS chances vs Astros

Oct 10, 2022, 6:55 PM
Mariners Cal Raleigh Adam Frazier...
Cal Raleigh celebrates with Mariners teammate Adam Frazier after a June 6, 2022 home run in Houston. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

After getting two full days to celebrate the Mariners’ incredible Wild Card series win in Toronto, it’s time to turn the page to Houston and the upcoming ALDS against the Astros.

M’s Notebook: ALDS start can’t come soon enough for Logan Gilbert

Not to oversimplify what’s to come this week, but I do think there are two overarching questions that will define whether or not the Mariners are capable of pulling off the upset against their AL West rivals.

Here’s what I’ll be paying close attention to.

1. How will the Mariners structure their rotation?

We know it will be Logan Gilbert and Luis Castillo in Games 1 and 2, respectively, but what will come next? Will it be George Kirby in Game 3 before Gilbert once again in Game 4? Surely Luis Castillo would start Game 5 on three day’s rest, right?

That’s how I’d order it if it were up to me. But I’m curious to see what manager Scott Servais opts to do with Robbie Ray most notably, but also Marco Gonzales and potentially Chris Flexen.

You don’t need me to tell you that Robbie Ray was dreadful against Houston this season. Ray totaled a mere 10.2 innings over three starts, surrendering a whopping 13 runs with seven walks while striking out just seven. There’s no scenario where he should get a start in this series. That said, I think there’s tremendous value in having him as a left-on-left specialist as a power arm out of the bullpen. I’d be just fine with Servais using him in high-leverage situations against Yordan Álvarez or Kyle Tucker, the only two left-handed hitters in Houston’s lineup.

I think it’s possible Servais gives Game 3 to Gonzales, who quietly posted a quality start in three out of his four starts against Houston this season. Gonzales and Kirby could be in a piggyback situation as well.

Related: Why M’s could get creative with their pitchers in ALDS vs. Astros

It should also be noted, as Aaron Goldsmith pointed out on Twitter, that Chris Flexen never surrendered more than three runs in any of his five starts versus the Astros in 2022. He allowed just two runs in two of them and one run in another pair of them.

2. Will the lineup stay hot against Houston’s stellar pitching staff?

The Astros rank first in MLB with a 2.68 FIP since Sept. 15 (regular season only). Houston is led by expected AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, who posted a ridiculous 1.75 ERA and 5.9 WAR at age 39. He’s joined in the rotation by Framber Valdez (who is second behind Verlander in ESPN’s Cy Young prediction), Cristian Javier and Lance McCullers Jr. as Houston starters with a sub-3.00 ERA in 2022. Luis García was also dominant in his one start against Seattle this season (6 IP, 1 ER, 6 K back on May 29).

Seattle went just 7-12 against Houston in 19 regular season matchups, scoring two runs or less 11 times. The Mariners posted just one run four times and got shutout on three occasions. All seven of Seattle’s wins against Houston came when scoring at least five runs.

The M’s lineup was sensational in two games against the Blue Jays, scoring a combined 14 runs. That included production beyond the usual suspects with timely hits from Carlos Santana, Adam Frazier and J.P. Crawford. If you’re a believer in momentum, it’ll be easy to sell yourself on Seattle’s chances against Houston.

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