ALDS Game 1 – Series Preview

marc w · October 11, 2022 at 12:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Logan Gilbert vs. Justin Verlander, 12:37pm

The Astros are insanely good. This series is five games long at most. This isn’t the factor that most raises the M’s odds – that’s the addition of Luis Castillo – but it does help. There simply isn’t enough time for the Astros’ talent advantage to reliably show up. As we’ve just seen, the playoffs are like summer camp, affording players the opportunity to try on completely different personalities for a while. Cal Raleigh hit .211 in the regular season, then played like a combination of Edgar Martinez and Tony Gwynn in Toronto. Adam Frazier put up an empty .612 OPS (a .612 OPS is, by definition, empty, but it needs an adjective because after watching Frazier this year, you would swear there was no way his OPS was north of .600), but an even 1.000 in two brilliant games against the Jays. My last series preview got blown up by reality, and I am okay with that. I’m just hoping the M’s can do…whatever this is…some more.

The M’s strength this season has been their pitching, and after the acquisition of Luis Castillo and the emergence of George Kirby, especially starting pitching. In a short series, that’s a nice strength to have. The problem is that the Astros had the best starters and the best pitching staff in baseball, with a TEAM ERA under 3 and the best FIP in baseball. They gave up 3.2 runs per game in a park we all used to think was hitter-friendly. The Astros have two starters with absolutely elite four-seam fastballs in Justin Verlander and Cristian Javier. They’ve got Framber Valdez and his elite sinker, powering the highest GB% of any starter in MLB (and it’s not close). Lance McCullers has an elite breaking ball that he throws a ton of, and to make matters worse, the staff gave up the fewest HRs in the American League.

If they have a weakness, it may be control. Justin Verlander is coming off a brilliant season, tying his career low in walk rate. But behind him, the Astros starters will give up free passes, while M’s batters’ strength is their patience. Javier, Valdez, and McCullers all have walk rates over 3 per 9 innings. If the M’s are able to get solid ABs from the bottom of their line-up, the way they did in Toronto, then this could be an equalizer. Meanwhile, the Astros haven’t seen Castillo in an M’s uniform, and got several of their wins against Seattle before the M’s solidified/improved their bullpen.

That helps, because the Astros line-up is a bit scary. It’s anchored by Yordan Alvarez, the hitter I fear most as an M’s fan. I was half-joking earlier in the season when I said I’d walk him every time he’s at the dish, but as time’s gone by, I’m increasingly comfortable with that strategy. A part of that is that a few of the Astros superstars have fallen back a bit. Alex Bregman had a very good year, with more walks than Ks. He put up a 136 wRC+, but I would throw him plenty of strikes. Bregman hit 41 HRs in 2019, then fell off a cliff with a bizarrely awful 2020, before a partial bounce-back in 2021. He’s been better this year, but he’s simply not hitting for as much power as he once had. The baseball is part of that, certainly, but he’s a player that derives a lot of his value from bases on balls, and the M’s staff doesn’t give up many. Bregman’s BABIP has been low for a while, so the M’s need to make him earn his way on base. Kyle Tucker’s in a similar position. He doesn’t quite have Bregman’s eye, but it’s close. Like Bregman, Tucker has a very high average launch angle, and thus hits plenty of fly balls. He’s a good hitter, but the M’s should be aggressive with him. On the flip side, Jose Altuve’s decline may have been exaggerated. The 2B had a career-high walk rate while maintaining his unlikely slugging ability. If he had a weakness in a 6.6 fWAR season, it’s that he was much better against left-handed pitching. I don’t think this match-up will determine if Robbie Ray gets a start in this series, but it’s an issue given the M’s wealth of righty SP options.

1: Julioooooo, CF
2: France, 1B
3: Suarez, 3B
4: Raleigh, C
5: Haniger, RF
6: Santana, DH
7: Frazier, 2B
8: Kelenic, LF
9: Crawford, SS
SP: Gilbert

The keys to the series for me:

1: Alvarez. If Yordan Alvarez has a bunch of RBIs and critical hits, something’s gone wrong. If he’s on base when someone else hits a HR, that’s unfortunate, but it wouldn’t make me as annoyed as if the M’s allow Alvarez to beat them. He will! Don’t let him!

2: Battle of the Bullpens. The Astros are a bit banged up, as RP Phil Maton’s off the roster after breaking a finger punching his locker. The ‘Stros bullpen performed well overall, but it doesn’t feel like a shutdown unit. Former Mariner Rafael Montero’s been great all year, but closer Ryan Pressly was awful against Seattle a year ago, and hasn’t pitched up to his FIP for several years. Meanwhile, the M’s have to hope that Paul Sewald got his one big clunker of an outing out of his system in Toronto. Andres Munoz getting a day off yesterday helps, but the M’s pen isn’t as rested as Houston’s. We’ll see if that matters.

3: Walks. Logan Gilbert has pitched very well against Houston and has learned the most important lesson in facing them: don’t give them free bases. With Gilbert and Castillo, plus the potential for a George Kirby start, the M’s are poised to neutralize one of the Astros’ strengths. If the M’s offense is going to score, they could use some free bases of their own. If the M’s out-walk the Astros’ line-up, that would go a long way towards evening things up, and at least on paper, that’s a real possibility. On the other hand, if Gilbert/Kirby are a bit worn down, and Kirby’s late-season control issues return, it gets a lot harder to see them overcoming this juggernaut of a team.

4: Platoon advantages. Leo Morgenstern’s great preview at Fangraphs mentions platoon splits for Logan Gilbert and how good he’s been against lefties. But I think this is an intriguing series, and a very different one compared to the Wild Card series against the aggressively-right-handed Jays. The rules on reliever usage make it harder to make mid-inning changes, and the Astros can altenrate *tough* righties and lefties in the middle of their order. Matt Boyd is going to get some very high leverage appearances as a left-handed reliever, but the M’s don’t really have much behind him. If the M’s can handle the Astros’ lefties, and if the M’s can get critical hits from their own lefties, they have a chance. During the regular season, that didn’t often happen, as guys like Jarred Kelenic, Adam Frazier, and Carlos Santana had rough years. But in the playoffs, Frazier, Santana, and especially Cal Raleigh came up clutch (although Santana’s biggest hit came as a RHB). They need to do so again, as the Astros’ probable starters are all righties, and the bulk of their bullpen is as well. All of them have been good-to-great against lefties, but still – the M’s need all the advantages they can get.


14 Responses to “ALDS Game 1 – Series Preview”

  1. EnglishMariner on October 11th, 2022 12:42 pm

    It’s going to be an easy win guys. Get the brooms out. Honest…

  2. EnglishMariner on October 11th, 2022 1:23 pm

    4-0. What did I tell you? Get the brooms out mofos. Raise your glass for Felix!

  3. Shizane on October 11th, 2022 1:33 pm

    Looking good so far, exciting!

  4. Westside guy on October 11th, 2022 2:08 pm

    Just coming in. Wow! Just… wow.

    Astros are certainly capable of scoring runs in bunches, but I really wasn’t expecting this much offense against Verlander.

  5. Westside guy on October 11th, 2022 2:14 pm

    I love that our boys chased Verlander after 4.

  6. kmsandrbs on October 11th, 2022 2:19 pm

    Chasing Verlander after 4 … I’m good with that. Now if we can just moderately chew up some of their relievers …

  7. EnglishMariner on October 11th, 2022 2:36 pm


  8. EnglishMariner on October 11th, 2022 3:26 pm

    DP’ing JA. You love to see it.

  9. JMB on October 11th, 2022 3:57 pm

    In the mood for like eight insurance runs here.

  10. kmsandrbs on October 11th, 2022 4:18 pm

    I’m really wishin’ Marc had not been so prescient. Sigh.

  11. Milendriel on October 11th, 2022 4:23 pm

    Well, that sucked. I wanted them to IBB him, or at least not throw him strikes.

  12. Westside guy on October 11th, 2022 4:34 pm

    Damn, what happened?

    I was checking out at Costco, we’re up 7-5 in the middle of the ninth. I hit a dead spot, and picked up the broadcast stream again just in time to hear we’d lost on a three-run homer.


  13. don52656 on October 11th, 2022 5:16 pm

    I thought the last thing I wanted entering the bottom of the 9th was for Alvarez to get up, because I knew he would represent the winning run. I never imagined that we would bring in Robbie Ray, who has now given up 3 HRs to 15 batters faced this post-season. I feel badly for him, because I simply have no idea why he was brought in to attempt his first career save against a hitter who hit .321 against with 10 HRs in 162 ABs against LHPs this season. And by the way, can someone tell me whatever happened to Erik Swanson, he of the 1.68 ERA who gave up 3 HRs all season?

  14. Stevemotivateir on October 12th, 2022 6:53 am

    I’m catching this late, but damn, did Marc nail it… Alvarez. If Yordan Alvarez has a bunch of RBIs and critical hits, something’s gone wrong. If he’s on base when someone else hits a HR, that’s unfortunate, but it wouldn’t make me as annoyed as if the M’s allow Alvarez to beat them. He will! Don’t let him!

    I wasn’t thrilled to learn that Ray was their plan all along, but the real problem was their willingness to allow Alvarez an opportunity to beat them. Bregman’s a threat as well, but I would have preferred him facing Swanson, for example.

    Anyway, it was game one. Castillo and a hot offense can make this a hell of a series before heading home.

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