MIKE SALK

Salk: The 3 reasons Mariners are down 2-0 in ALDS to Astros

Oct 13, 2022, 5:08 PM | Updated: 6:49 pm
Mariners J.P. Crawford...
J.P. Crawford reacts to lining into a double play against the Astros in Game 2 of the ALDS. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The Astros are a nearly perfectly constructed team. They don’t have a single obvious weakness. So the best way to beat them is to catch them on an off day and be happy it’s a short series, which limits the talent differential and enhances both the importance of luck and the individual moments that turn close games.

Mariners Reaction: Wyman & Bob on missed opportunities in Game 2

Unfortunately, the Mariners have surrendered that potential advantage. They haven’t won those key moments. They haven’t had the good luck. And now they have put themselves in a position where they need to win three games in a row to advance.

Seattle has led both games of the series. They have had a chance to win both. And while the last two innings of Tuesday’s loss have been dissected in great detail, Thursday’s 4-2 loss seems much simpler.

The Mariners lost Game 2 because of three big reasons.

1. The Astros are a better team.

This is the biggest reason. They have a better roster and their best players outperformed your best players once again. Yordan Alvarez is one of the best hitters on the planet and right now he is hot. Real hot. We know how it burned the Mariners in Game 1, but his presence took over Game 2 to an almost equal degree.

Luis Castillo was cruising right along until Jeremy Peña reached with two outs in the sixth and Alvarez flipped the script with a two-run bomb. It wasn’t a great pitch, but it wasn’t a meatball. Their best player just took your best pitcher deep.

Could you have walked him? I know some will say yes, but putting the tying run on second and the go-ahead run on base? To call it unorthodox would be an understatement. In the ninth? Maybe. In the sixth? No way. That could turn a close game into a laugher.

Oh, by the way, they tried that strategy two innings later and Alex Bregman made them pay.

Their best hitter beat your best pitcher. It happens. It stinks. I understand the desire to blame a decision. But sometimes their best is just better than yours.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only example. Houston pitchers didn’t make many mistakes. But when they did, the Mariners couldn’t do enough damage. Cal Raleigh had a chance with a mistake and lined out to center. Eugenio Suárez had a chance but fouled off the cookie. Julio Rodríguez had a chance with a man on base but he missed the middle-middle mistake. Jarred Kelenic gave his a ride but it came up just short.

2. Bad breaks.

There is a reason you play 162 baseball games in a season. It evens out the luck of this game. In a short series? Not so much. In Toronto, that was a key to victory. J.P. Crawford’s eighth inning double defined “good break” and was as important as any play in the series. On Thursday in Houston, that came full circle and then some.

Look, we all know Alvarez is beyond dangerous, and so the key to the series is limiting the traffic on base when he comes to the plate. Paul Sewald failed to do so in the ninth inning on Tuesday and it cost them the game. So when Peña hit a little duck fart into center field that dropped between Adam Frazier and Rodríguez in the sixth inning, it changed the game. That it so closely paralleled what we had seen just five days earlier gave it symmetry. But the result was deadly for the Mariners.

Then to make it worse, Crawford stung a line drive down the first baseline that not only went directly to Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel but cost them a second out because Frazier couldn’t get back to the bag. Again, no one’s fault, but that was a brutal chain of events. And it felt even worse after Julio doubled to the gap with two outs in the next at-bat.

There were a few bad calls in key spots that went against Seattle, as well. I won’t go through them all but you get it. In a short series, the underdog needs all the luck they can get, and the exact opposite has occurred throughout the first two games.

3. The Astros finished 16 games ahead of the Mariners this year.

Yes, they are a better team (we covered that) but the result of those extra wins was that they got to sit home last weekend while the Mariners were traveling to Toronto, using up a lot of energy in the comeback win, and then flying to Houston.

Their pitching looks tired. Or, to be more specific, Andrés Muñoz looks tired. He is the only Mariner to pitch in all four postseason games. He was dominant in the first. Good in the second. Horrible in the third and not much better in the fourth. His 102-103 MPH fastballs are down to 100. His slider isn’t quite as hard and tight. He looks, for the first time, mortal.

Could manager Scott Servais have gone to another arm? On Tuesday, I would say no. On Wednesday, I think he probably should have. They were trailing and he could have given his bullpen ace a break. I understand the thinking: they have an off-day tomorrow, the heart of the order was up, and he needed to keep it a one-run game. But Muñoz has looked tired ever since throwing multiple innings last Friday, and now Scott has used that bullet without getting the result he wanted (or needed).

Maybe you could argue that the time off hurt Astros ace Justin Verlander, who wasn’t on his A-game in his first start in Game 1 after the long layoff. But it sure helped to have the last-ups in that game, and they earned that by playing better over the 162-game season.

The Mariners now have their backs up against the wall. They certainly are a team comfortable with that scenario, and my own past is littered with a few teams that have come back from this same deficit (1999 Red Sox over Cleveland, 2003 Red Sox over the A’s). To win three in a row, you have to play nearly perfect baseball. You need a few extra timely hits. A few unlikely heroes. A few clutch pitching performances. A few gifts from the baseball gods (who might owe you one after Thursday). They might need the Astros to feel the pressure of trying to put a team away (unlikely from a team that has gone to the ALCS five years in a row).

And the Mariners will definitely need all the help they can get from a home crowd Saturday that has waited two decades to see postseason baseball up close and personal.

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