8:10 PM EST – Money Line: Astros -128, Run Line: 7.5
Though we’re just entering the month of June, the race for the American League West is heating up as the Seattle Mariners travel to Minute Maid Park to face the reigning World Series Champion Houston Astros for the first meeting of a short 2-Game Series in Southern Texas. One of the pleasant surprises of the 2018 Campaign are the Mariners (37-22, 1st in AL West), who in the face of a rash of injuries have caught fire of late, vaulting themselves to First Place Western Division. Winners of Thirteen out of their last Sixteen Games, and having gone 21-11 since May 1st, Seattle are making a strong case for themselves to be taken seriously. Scott Servais has done a solid job of getting the most out of his charges in the face of adversity; All-Star Second Baseman Robinson Cano (.287 BA, 10 2B, 4 HR, 23 RBI) is serving an 80-Game Suspension for violating the League’s PED Policy, and isn’t expected to return until Mid-August, while former Cy Young-winner Felix Hernandez (6-4, 5.33 ERA, 62 K, 29 BB, 1.332 WHIP) has struggled to retain his previously electrifying form of years past. With the more heralded members of the M’s failing to contribute, the younger ones have begun to make a name for themselves. In just his third year in the Majors, Mitch Haniger (.270 BA, 11 2B, 12 HR, 42 RBI) has been a revelation, filling the void left by Cano, leading the Mariners in both Home Runs (12) and Runs Batted In (42), forming a powerful tandem with veteran slugger Nelson Cruz (.249 BA, 8 2B, 10 HR, 29 RBI). The 27-Year Old Rightfielder crushed the Game-Winning Home Run in last Friday’s 4-3 victory over the Rays, and isn’t far from surpassing the career-best marks he set last season in Home Runs (16) and RBI (47) in 169 more At-Bats. That notion of youthful production has extended to the Mound as well, where we’ll see James Paxton (4-1, 3.13 ERA, 95 K, 24 BB, 1.004 WHIP) tonight. The 29-Year Old Lefthander looks to have firmly supplanted Hernandez as the Ace of the Rotation, having gone unbeaten since March 31st, which was coincidentally his first start of the campaign. Granted, many of his Starts have ended in No-Decisions (Seven of them, to be exact), but even without the victories on his resume’ it’s quite clear that this guy has got the proverbial goods. The British Columbia Native has logged four 10-Strikeout Performances thus far, including a No-Hitter back on May 8th against the Toronto Blue Jays, becoming just second Canadian do achieve that feat. With that said, he was rather sloppy in his last Start, a 7-6 loss versus the Texas Rangers, in which he failed to make it past the Sixth Inning for the first time in Seven Starts, yielding a pair of Earned Runs on Four Hits with Five Strikeouts in comparison to Four Walks. Over the course of his career, Paxton has faced the Astros nine occasions, earning a 4-3 record with a 3.16 ERA, with a 3.57 Strikeout/Walk Ratio and 1.110 WHIP. When these sides met early in the season, he allowed One Run on Three Hits over Six Innings, with Seven Strikeouts and Three Walks in a narrow 2-1 Victory at Safeco Field on April 16th.
Meanwhile, the schedule isn’t letting up anytime soon for the Astros (37-24, 2nd in AL West) who continue their run of facing American League Powerhouses with their Division Rival Mariners, whom they will be meeting for the fifth time already this season. The old adage of the defending Champions wearing a proverbial target on their backs has apparently rung true for Houston, who over the past few weeks has faced a number of Division Leaders, including the Cleveland Indians and the Boston Red Sox, along with the New York Yankees, going 4-6 over that span. When last we saw A.J. Hinch’s charges, they were getting pummeled in a 9-3 loss at home to the Red Sox, who touched them up for Fifteen Hits, with Six of their Runs coming after the Fifth Inning. It was a rough showing for Charlie Morton (7-1, 2.84 ERA, 92 K, 23 BB, 1.082 WHIP), who took his first Loss of the term, relinquishing Six Earned Runs on Nine Hits (including a pair of Home Runs) despite racking up Seven Strikeouts in comparison to One Walk. Meanwhile, he didn’t get much help from the Plate either, for Houston was surprisingly quiet on Sunday, mustering just Five Hits, with George Springer’s (.290 BA, 13 2B, 13 HR, 36 RBI) Solo Homer off Rick Porcello in the First Inning serving as the extent of their production. Apart from the All-Star Rightfielder, the likes of Alex Bregman (.260 BA, 18 2B, 6 HR, 27 RBI), Jose Altuve (.329 BA, 15 2B, 4 HR, 29 RBI), Carlos Correa (.263 BA, 14 2B, 10 HR, 39 RBI), and Yuli Gurriel (.291 BA, 13 2B, 1 HR, 19 RBI) went a combined 4-of-17 (.235) with Six Strikeouts. Hinch & Co. are no doubt hoping that facing a more familiar foe will help correct course, for the reigning Champs took Three out of Four Games from the Mariners when they last met earlier in the campaign, outscoring them by a whopping Seventeen Runs in the process. Perhaps none of their number is in more need of correcting said course than Dallas Kuechel (3-7, 3.65 ERA, 60 K, 21 BB, 1.230 WHIP), who has really fallen on hard times of late, going winless over his last Three Starts, while owning a share for the most Losses in the Majors (Seven). Now before we prematurely write this guy off, let’s remember that the Lefthander is both a former Cy Young and 20-Game Winner, and after going unbeaten in his first Twelve Starts in 2017, it kind of feels like fate is at play here; Kuechel started the season slowly, winning just one of his first Seven Starts despite owning a solid 3.65 ERA and sharing a spot in a Rotation sporting three 7-Game Winners. That, folks, would suggest that he’s been merely unlucky. However, consistency has been his biggest problem thus far, with his last Start, a 5-3 loss at the New York Yankees serving as a microcosm of his year to date; the 30-Year Old was strong early, permitting just One Run on Two Singles through the first Four Innings, but fell apart afterward, allowing Two Runs apiece in both the Fifth and Sixth Stanzas, before ending the Night with a mixed bag of Seven Strikeouts, Three Walks, and a pair of Wild Pitches. In Fifteen Career Starts against he Mariners, Kuechel is 8-6 with a 2.67 ERA, while sporting a 1.013 WHIP and 3.72 Strikeout/Walk Ratio, though he took the Loss when they met earlier in May of 2018.