Mariners Series Preview: Why are Astros cellar-dwelling in AL West?

May 3, 2024, 11:50 AM | Updated: May 4, 2024, 12:30 pm

Seattle Mariners Astros Houston Justin Verlander...

Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros reacts as he is removed from a against the Cubs. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

(Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners begin a new road trip in Houston against the Astros at 5:10 p.m. Friday, but there’s a different dynamic to this three-game series than others the two rivals have played in recent years.

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For one, the Mariners are in first place in the American League West with a 17-14 record, having won five straight series. But more surprising is where the Astros currently sit.

Houston has won six of the last seven AL West titles, but under first-year manager Joe Espada, the Astros enter Friday with an 11-20 record – tied for worst in the division with the Los Angeles Angels. Does this mean the Astros’ reign of terror over the Seattle Mariners and their fans is truly coming to an end?

Ahead of the series, Seattle Sports’ Curtis Rogers caught up with Astros beat writer Chandler Rome of The Athletic to get an idea of what’s been going wrong for Houston.

“It’s a long list,” Rome said. “They have the highest-paid bullpen in baseball, and they’ve been awful. The back end of their bullpen – Bryan Abreu, Ryan Pressly, Josh Hader – this bullpen has blown six saves this year, and it’s been guys that I think any manager in baseball would would give the baseball to with a lead in the ninth inning and feel comfortable about it.”

That can’t help, but it’s a little harder to understand why the Astros are where they are when you see they have the most hits in the American League with 287 and the AL’s highest batting average (.264). Turns out execution has been a problem, with Houston ranking 19th in MLB in OPS with runners in scoring position at .718, which is 33 points lower than the M’s, who rank 13th in the same statistic at .751.

“It’s been the most confounding thing that they can’t hit in the clutch,” Rome said. “José Altuve is now 2 for 19 with runners in scoring position this season. Yordan Álvarez is currently in a funk, he’s got a .581 OPS in his past 13 games. Kyle Tucker is really, really carrying this team presently. Alex Bregman’s off to an awful start.”

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And what about when the Astros have been able to hit?

“It’s just been everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. I mean, they’ve had six starters spend time on the IL,” Rome said. “… (Astros outfielder) Mauricio Dubon said this last week, and it resonates: it seems like when they pitch, they don’t hit. And when they hit, they don’t pitch. They have not gotten any sort of consistency at all this season.”

It’s rare for teams to get off to starts like Houston has and rebound enough to challenge for the World Series, so it’s understandable if there is some panic around the Astros right now.

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“It just doesn’t seem like they’re clicking on all cylinders. You can tell there’s a sense of urgency now,” Rome said. “They’re overhauling the roster, they’re getting guys up from (Triple-A) Sugarland. They had to make a decision on José Abreu a couple of days ago. Josh Hader’s pitching two innings (in the same game) now on April 30, so they’re in urgency mode. They know that they have dug themselves a hole that very few teams have climbed out of to become legitimate championship contenders.

“I don’t think you can ever doubt this team, just given their core, given what they’ve been through, given who’s on the team, but they have not played at all like the Astros that you’re accustomed to seeing.”

The Seattle Mariners begin their series against the Houston Astros at 5:10 p.m. Friday. Catch Mariners Radio Network coverage on Seattle Sports 710 AM, the Seattle Sports app and beginning at 4 p.m. with the pregame show. For details on how to stream Mariners broadcasts from Seattle Sports, click here.

Extra Innings with host Curtis Rogers airs from 7-9 p.m. on Seattle Sports 710 AM, the Seattle Sports app and on weeknights during the baseball season when the Mariners have the day off. Listen to the conversation with The Athletic’s Chandler Rome in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post, and click here for podcasts of every Extra Innings show.

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Mariners Series Preview: Why are Astros cellar-dwelling in AL West?