Rotating tide in AL West? Mariners series win sends message to Astros

The Houston Astros have long been the team to beat in the American League West.

Well, the Seattle Mariners just beat them.

Brash earns first win as M’s beats Astros 7-2 to win series

The Mariners shrugged off their tough season-opening road trip to take two of three of their division rivals this weekend, and those two wins featured just about everything this team is built to do.

Starting pitch dominant? It’s understood. A deep formation that feeds on baserunners to organize rallies? That too. A dead bullpen? Not even a question. Might as well throw a stellar defense and the occasional opposite-field outburst from a right-handed hitter who also rode through the cold April air from Seattle.

Maybe it’s a streak the Mariners, now 5-5 on the season, look back on and realize that’s where the tide has turned. The one where Seattle sent a message to the division winner in four of the past five seasons that the AL West title will no longer go through Houston.

The Mariners have won a few series here and there against the Astros in recent years, but not many. And more importantly, they haven’t won a season streak against Houston since 2018, and this is the only time they’ve done so since 2015. Simply put, the Astros have the aggressors most often when the teams have met over the past seven seasons, and the Mariners were just trying to keep up.

This weekend at T-Mobile Park was a different story.

Most.

Indeed, while Seattle outscored Houston (5-4) in wins Friday and Sunday, Saturday felt like a replay. Justin Verlander, making just his second start after Tommy John surgery that repaired the torn UCL he suffered on Day 1 of 2020 against the Mariners, has looked back every moment in award-winning form by the Cy Young Award, striking out eight in eight scoreless innings, baseball on three hits to lead the Astros to a 4-0 win.

Should that put the brakes on the Mariners’ series win, though? I do not think so. Keep that in mind, of course, but the fact the Mariners otherwise slammed around Astros’ throw should underline how Verlander, who Mariners analyst Ryan Rowland-Smith says is his pick to win the American League Cy Young this year after the game. show the night before Saturday’s game is back to its old tricks.

The other Houston pitchers Seattle saw, however, the roster generally had an answer.

In Friday night’s 11-1 win in front of a raucous crowd, sold out crowdthe M’s scored two or more runs against each of the four Astros pitchers.

New M’s Frazier, Winker and Rodríguez react to the “electric” atmosphere of the house

A 7-2 win on Sunday, the M’s chased down starter Jose Urquidy with a five-run fourth inning (they scored it for a total of six runs), then added another run in the sixth against reliever Ronel White. Seattle also did that without cleanup hitter Mitch Haniger, who was placed on the COVID-19 disabled list on Saturday, and with No. 3 hitter Jesse Winker.

Seattle’s bullpen, meanwhile, was nearly untouchable. Houston scratched just one run against the Mariners relievers in 8 2/3 innings in the series, collecting just six hits and three walks while striking out 11 times. Sunday’s victory featured a particularly frustrating run for Astros hitters as Seattle dispatched Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, Andrés Muñoz and Diego Castillo – all right-handers with difficult sliders – in a row in relief from starter Matt Brash – also a right-hander with a difficult slider.

And that brings us to the opening pitch, which deserves as much credit as anything for the series that sets the tone. And it all started with Marco Gonzales.

The veteran southpaw hasn’t had much career success against Houston, and that was clearly on his mind in Friday night’s home opener. He pitched seven innings, allowing four hits, no walks and a batter to give up a single run while striking out six for the win.

“Going forward in the count, throwing five different pitches for strikes and throwing with a little chip on my shoulder,” Gonzales said when asked what was key for him after the game. “These guys slapped me for a long time. So (it) felt good to stick to them a bit.

Sounds a bit like a microcosm of the entire Mariners-Astros rivalry over the past eight years, doesn’t it?

The Astros aren’t exactly the same old Astros this year. All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa is gone, now a Minnesota twin. The rotation isn’t what it used to be, though Verlander defies age. Young, unproven players are invited to play major roles this season.

Well, the Mariners aren’t the same old Mariners either. They haven’t been in a while, but it was particularly evident on Sunday when Brash, just his second major league start, puzzled Houston’s lineup for 5 1/3 innings without a hitter before until José Altuve hits a single and Michael Brantley hits, sending the Mariners out. manager Scott Servais to call the bullpen.

However, 23-year-old Brash was electric again even though he struggled to command. He walked six and also hit a batter, but the Astros couldn’t do much when they swung. As a result, Brash struck out five and allowed Houston to hit four big double plays. All the while, Seattle’s offense was buzzing, scoring more than enough points to walk away with the win.

A bit as if the shoe was on the other foot.

Kind of like Houston playing the old version of itself – the starving squad with exciting young players, breakout candidates and seasoned veterans in key locations.

A little felt the wind turn.

I think the AL West has a fight on their hands this year.

More Seafarers coverage from SeattleSports.com

• How GM Jerry Dipoto sees Nolan Ryan in Logan Gilbert
• Dipoto: with Crawford and new personalities, the clubhouse is “blissful”
• Scott Servais: ‘If everything comes together’, the Mariners will be ‘tough to beat’
• Aaron Goldsmith: Why Julio Rodríguez’s early fights aren’t as bad as they seem

amoloans