Pop quiz, which team is in first place in the American League West Division right now? If you guessed the Houston Astros, you are dead wrong. While that answer would have been right almost all season long, entering play today, it is the Seattle Mariners that sit alone atop the AL West. The Mariners have been blistering hot recently as they have won sixteen out of their last nineteen games. Houston is mired in a bit of a slump as they have gone 3-6 in their last nine games and opened the door for Seattle to overtake them for first place.
Tonight’s game will feature two ace pitchers matching up. For the Mariners, that is James Paxton (4-1 3.13 ERA), and for the Astros, it is Dallas Keuchel (3-7 3.65 ERA). The Astros are -122 home favorites. The game total over-under is set at seven runs. First pitch is scheduled for 5:10 PM PST from Minute Maid Park.
This recent run from Seattle was hard to see coming. They lost Robinson Cano to an 80-game PED suspension and sent Dee Gordon to the DL with a broken toe. Without two of their best players in the lineup, Seattle then decided to go on its biggest run of the season. They have done it by squeaking out tight games. Seattle has won nine of the recent thirteen wins by just one run. Timely hitting and a great bullpen has been how Seattle has managed to get back into the hunt for a division title many people essentially handed to Houston when the season started.
Starting for Seattle tonight is James Paxton. The “Big Maple” has had a storybook start to his season. Paxton has ace-level stuff, and it has really shown this season. He has two complete games on the year, one of which was a no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 8th. In the month of May, Paxton was 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA. He had fifty-one strikeouts in just forty-three innings pitched. In his lone start against Houston this year, Paxton pitched six innings and allowed just one run on three hits in a Mariners win. The loser pitcher of that game? Dallas Keuchel.
Dallas Keuchel probably has the worst luck of any pitcher in the American League this year. Despite pitching pretty well most of the year, he has just a 3-7 record. That is more losses than he had all of last year. Many of those losses he has been a hard-luck loser. Like the game against Seattle, where he pitched a complete game and gave up just two earned runs and lost. Keuchel has not been his normal elite self, but he is tied for the most losses in the American League with seven, and that is company he surely shouldn’t be a part of this season.
For some reason, this Houston Astros offense, that is inarguably one of the best in the game, just doesn’t like to support Dallas Keuchel this year. If he is even slightly off his game, he is taking the loss. And this Houston team is just kind of running bad in general. In baseball, it can be hard to nail down just why one team gets hot, and another goes cold. But right now, Houston is slumping, and Seattle is streaking.
The Mariners are finding ways to win close games. They are 18-9 in one-run games this season. The Astros are the exact opposite as they are 4-12 in one runs games. The big reason for this difference is each team’s bullpen. “Fast” Eddie Diaz, the Mariners closer, is leading the league in saves and has been striking out guys at a borderline historic level. He is striking out guys at a rate of almost fifteen per nine innings. Seattle also just picked up Alex Colome from the Tampa Bay Rays. Colome has yet to give up an earned run in his four appearances so far for Seattle. Picking up an elite level setup guy like Colome shows me that the Mariners want to win and win now.
The bullpen struggles for Houston have been well documented. They won the World Series last year by basically throwing their starters entire games and then bringing in different starters for three and four-inning saves. When it mattered most, they had zero confidence in their bullpen. Even though their bullpen has pitched fairly well this year, they still have very little confidence in it. Astros closer Ken Giles has an ERA of 5.21, and they avoid him like the plague in close games they are really trying to win.
This feels like a very close game to me. Houston is slipping a little bit over the last week or so, but make no mistake, this is a really good team. The starting pitching matchup is a wash as both guys should be very good. So, where do I draw the line? The fact that the Astros just can’t win close games. Seattle has made its season on winning close games, and the Astros have been terrible in the same spot.
This game has close written all over it. It should be tightly contested and come down to the wire, and I just can’t pass up on the Mariners as underdogs right now, especially with James Paxton on the mound. Keuchel has been getting unlucky all year long, and I think that continues tonight. So, I’ll scoop up some dog money in what should be a coin flip type of game and back the Seattle Mariners as small road dogs at +102 tonight in game one!