BROCK AND SALK

How good is Mariners’ pitching? It has the Astros worried

Aug 28, 2023, 4:10 PM

Seattle Mariners Houston Astros Dusty Baker...

Astros manager Dusty Baker and 3B coach Gary Pettis before a 2023 game vs. the Seattle Mariners. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Now that the Seattle Mariners are in first place in the American League West, the shoe is on the other foot for their chief rival in the division.

Salk: Seattle Mariners in first place? Three things brought them here

That other team would be the Houston Astros, the defending World Series champs who have won the division five of the last six years. Sure, the Texas Rangers are the team the Mariners passed to take the lead in the West, but it’s the Astros who Seattle has been battling with for three years, and the Houston squad still has the most experience in a playoff race among the three competitors.

When it comes to the favorite in the race, for now, longtime MLB insider Tom Verducci is taking the team alone in first place entering Monday.

Current MLB Standings: Division | Wild Card

“Just on the strength of pitching, because I usually go pitching and defense to decide these close calls, I would say Seattle,” Verducci said when asked Monday to handicap the three-team AL West race by Brock Huard on Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk. “I think they’re the best (pitching) staff, one through 13.”

Verducci, whose work covering the league can be found on FOX and MLB Network and in the pages of Sports Illustrated, then indicated that Seattle’s strength on the mound is something that is on the Astros’ minds. He shared a revealing anecdote from talking to Houston manager Dusty Baker while covering an Astros game over the weekend.

“They’re getting Michael Brantley back probably this week,” Verducci said, referring to a five-time All-Star and longtime Astros bat who is the son of former Mariners outfielder Mickey Brantley. “It was really interesting, the other day I was doing an Astros game and Dusty Baker was talking about his team and how important Michael Brantley is. Brantley is a professional hitter, left-handed. They mostly have a right-handed lineup – I mean, you do have (Yordan) Álvarez and (Kyle) Tucker. But Brantley just kind of is that guy, that steady .300 hitter, puts the ball in play, keeps right-handed pitching honest.”

Here’s where it gets, as Verducci said himself, “interesting.”

“Dusty specifically mentioned Seattle. I don’t know whether he’s looking forward to September or the postseason, possibly, but he said Brantley is ‘the guy we need against the Mariners.'”

In the same conversation, Verducci spoke at length about how the Mariners’ pitching staff has been dominant all season long despite lacking left-handers in the starting rotation (click here for more on that). And with the Astros’ lineup also being predominantly right-handed, Baker and his team know it could be trouble if it can’t get back Brantley, who hasn’t played in a big league game since late last year due to a shoulder injury. After all, that matchup of Seattle’s pitchers and Houston’s hitters played a big role in the Mariners sweeping three games in Houston from Aug. 18-20.

“You saw it in that weekend there (in Houston) where you see the right-handed power pitching in Seattle, you better have some left-handed bats in the lineup that can turn around velocity,” Verducci said. “Brantley turns out to be a key guy, at least in Dusty’s mind, matching up against the Mariners.”

To hear the full Brock and Salk conversation with Tom Verducci, find the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

More on the Seattle Mariners

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Morosi: ‘Why wouldn’t you love’ where Mariners are in playoff race?
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