Why MLB insider thinks Mariners will pass loathed division rival

Apr 21, 2024, 9:36 AM

Seattle Mariners division rival in trouble...

Blair Henley of the Houston Astros during a 2024 game. (Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

(Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners appear trending in the right direction after sweeping the Cincinnati Reds last week and blasting the Colorado Rockies in their series opener Saturday for a season-high four-game win streak. Those victories moved the Mariners to 10-10 and into a tie with the Texas Rangers (11-11) for first in the American League West.

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According to MLB Network insider Jon Morosi, they’re doing it at just the right time. Morosi joined Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob on Thursday for a conversation about the Mariners and the rest of the American League West, and he thinks this is the year the Mariners pass their most notable nemesis of the past few years: the Houston Astros.

“I think that they’re poised to break things out in a in a positive way,” Morosi said of the Mariners, “and it’s happening at a time where I’ve had three or four baseball conversations today about, ‘Man, are the Astros really this bad?’ … I realize we’re we’re a little bit reacting to not even a full month of baseball, but people who have seen the Astros consistently are worried, and that obviously has a direct impact on the Mariners and their chances for the playoffs.”

Indeed, it has been a troublesome start to the season for Seattle’s loathed division rival. The Astros entered Sunday in last place in the AL West at 7-15. The biggest problem has been the team’s pitching, which ranked second-to-last in MLB with a team ERA of 5.13 entering the weekend. Only the forever-pitching-starved Rockies, who play their home games in a hitter’s paradise at mile-high Coors Field, had done worse. Additionally, Houston ranked 29th in walk per nine innings (4.21) and strikeouts per nine (7.65).

The Astros have been dealing with injury issues to their rotation. Longtime ace Justin Verlander made his season debut Friday against the Washington Nationals after right shoulder inflammation sidelined the 41 year old early. Left-hander Framber Valdez landed on the injured list on April 9 with elbow inflammation. Matt Kawahara of the Houston Chronicle reported Valdez threw off the mound for the first time since the injury in a 30-pitch bullpen session Saturday. Valdez’s return date hasn’t been set, but Houston manager Joe Espada said it’s possible he could return without a rehab assignment.

Cristian Javier and surprising 30-year-old breakout Ronel Blanco have been bright spots in Houston’s rotation, but a number of key Astros pitchers have struggled early on. Starters J.P. France and Hunter Brown have combined for an 0-5 record and 8.47 ERA over 34 innings in eight starts. After signing a five-year, $95 million contract in the offseason, closer Josh Hader is 0-2 with an 8.38 ERA while pitching just 9 2/3 innings in 11 appearances. Plus, high-leverage arms Ryan Pressly and Bryan Abreu have struggled with ERAs of 8.31 and 4.91, respectively. Pressley allowed two runs in the ninth inning Saturday to blow a save in an eventual 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals.

“I’m officially worried about the Astros in a way that I’m just not sure if they have really braced themselves yet for what is to come,” Morosi said. “… They’ve got some major issues. I do not see the Astros finishing ahead of the Mariners this year based on what I’ve seen so far.”

M’s pitching leads the way

Seattle, meanwhile, has what Morosi believes is a roster fully capable of reaching the postseason. The main reason is the Mariners excel where Houston is struggling. After a somewhat shaky start, Seattle’s pitching staff is showing why it’s considered among MLB’s best.

The Mariners capped a seven-game stretch of pitching excellence with a one-hitter in their 5-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday. During the seven games, the Mariners recorded a 1.83 ERA and 0.73 WHIP, starters Luis Castillo and George Kirby improved after early struggles and Logan Gilbert and Bryce Miller continued strong starts. Castillo added to that impressive run with seven shutout innings against the Rockies on Saturday. Morosi also pointed out that Seattle is among MLB’s best in striking out batters and avoiding walks. The Mariners entered Saturday first in MLB in fewest walks per nine (2.23) and were in the top 10 in strikeouts per nine (9.19).

“That dichotomy, a bunch of strikeouts, very low walks, that will play over the big six months of the regular season,” Morosi said. “… This is a rotation-dependent team that I do think offensively will get better. I think they already showed some signs in this last little while of becoming a better ball club.”

However, Morosi sees the defending World Series champion Rangers still as the team to beat in the division.

“Remember they are where they’re at right now without having anything from (staring pitchers Max) Scherzer, (Jacob) deGrom or (Tyler) Mahle, and they expect to get all three of them back by the time we’re into the second half (of the season), or at least August,” Morosi said. “Internally they’re going to get I think a lot better. …  So, based on what I’ve seen so far, Texas has the best roster, which isn’t a surprise. They won the World Series last year, but looking at the rest of the division, the Mariners, I think, are the next most complete team based on what I’ve seen.”

Listen to the full conversation at this link or in the audio player near the top of this story. Tune in to Wyman and Bob weekdays from 2-6 p.m. or find the podcast on the Seattle Sports app.

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