The sailors did more than just to break their decade-long postseason drought, because as sweet as it was to say they “got there,” it would have been more than a little bittersweet to do so and not play a single home game (as would have happened had they lost to the Blue Jays in the Wild Card Series). But thanks to one of the most amazing comebacks in playoff history in Game 2 in Toronto on Saturday, Seattle moved on. They have to start in Houston, for sure. But there will be at least one home playoff game at T-Mobile Park. It promises to be an incredible environment.
Of course, they still have to face the Astros, who have been resting and watching, and who are the No. 1 seed for good reason. No team outside of the Dodgers (111-51) has won more games than Houston (106-56) this year. No team outside of the Dodgers has won more games over the last five years than the Astros. The faces may have changed, on the field and in the front office, but the result never seems to change: Success. A lot of it.
So who has the edge between these two division rivals? Let’s find out position by position:
We’ll be the first to admit that a catcher’s value doesn’t come entirely — or perhaps even primarily — from offense. Martin Maldonadowho has already appeared in 43 postseason games for the Astros, and Christian Vazquezwho supported the 2018 Red Sox to a ring, is highly esteemed because of their defensive value, their ability to manage pitchers and control the running game. It matters, a lot.
But they’ve also combined to hit all of .187/.246/.319 (.565 OPS) as catchers for Houston this year, which is quite the hole to dig out. If you think of Maldonado’s postseason at-bat, it’s the time in last year’s World Series when absolutely everyone on the planet knew. he wouldn’t be swinging. that of Seattle Cal Raleigh may not have the same reputation, but he has hit 27 home runs this year with a .774 OPS, in addition to four big hits in the Mariners’ Wild Card Series sweep.
There is a risk in deletion Yuli Gurriel too soon, as he did post an excellent 131 OPS+ just a year ago, though his recent postseason history has been spotty (.237/.301/.311 in 196 plate appearances since 2019). On the other hand, he’s 38 years old and suffered his weakest full season in the majors, with just an 84 OPS+ and a second half that was worse than his disappointing first half.
Ty France, meanwhile, had what is wrongly seen as a breakout season, posting a 126 OPS+. Why do we say that? Because, to little attention, he had a 128 OPS+ in 2021, and a 133 OPS+ in 2020. Maybe only France is a very good hitter.
Is it possible that Jose Altuve just had the quietest great season in baseball? He may not be the 50-steal speedster he once was, and no one is hitting .340 anymore, but Altuve’s .300/.387/.533 season with 28 home runs and 18 steals comes out to a 160 OPS+, which not only binds his 2017 MVP season for the best offensive year of his career, but was a top-five mark in the Majors. At 32 years old, a decade after his first All-Star appearance, we’re not that far from considering what Altuve’s Cooperstown case might look like one day. (He also has a .907 postseason OPS.)
Adam Frazier has his value — he makes a lot of contact — but his 80 OPS+ can’t come close to comparing. Overall, Seattle second basemen ranked 28th in Wins Above Replacement, per FanGraphs. This one is not close.
It may seem so Jeremy Rock (101 OPS+) and JP Crawford (100 OPS+) had similar offensive years, and the back of the baseball card will show you that. But the ways they got there were vastly different, as Crawford had more or less the same year in 2021 — which is exactly who he is, a league-average bat — while rookie Peña got off to a great start, got hurt , struggled all summer, and then picked it up again in September/October, hitting six home runs with a .790 OPS.
However, even if you argue that the bats aren’t all that different, the defensive metrics give Peña a huge advantage over Crawford. Good enough for us.
We have to point that out Eugene Suarezwho played himself out of Cincinnati as a salary anchor attached to Jesse Winker after a .198/.286/.428 performance last year, had a very good season with Seattle, hitting 31 homers to go with a 129 OPS+ and solid defense.
It is that performance that makes it much closer than you thought a year ago, considering the year Suárez had. We still give the advantage Alex Bregman here, because he’s a better fielder, has a better record and simply gets on base more often (34-point edge in OBP this year). But the fact that this is even a question — and it is — speaks to what a bounce-back season Suárez has provided.
The Astros have Yordan Alvarez, and the Mariners do not. That’s in no way meant to disrespect anyone Seattle has here; it’s the simple fact that Alvarez, who hit .306/.406/.613 (187 OPS+) with 37 home runs, is one of the most talented hitters in the sport. The Mariners won’t match Alvarez, who will likely see some DH time when the series moves to Seattle, where there’s a lot more ground to cover in lefty.
Due to injuries — Jesse Winker and Sam Haggerty are each unavailable for the ALDS — the Mariners were forced to turn to Jarred Kelenic in the Wild Card Series, and he didn’t reach base in six plate appearances after posting a 55 OPS+ in the regular season. Dylan Moore might start when the Astros have a lefty on the mound, but this is not a strength for Seattle or a matchup they will ever win.
On the one hand: One of baseball’s most transcendent young players, the Home Run Derby runner-up, the presumptive AL Rookie of the Year, the already-a-superstar-in-his-first-season. Julio Rodriguez.
On the other hand? Well, we really don’t know. Dusty Baker said so recentlynoting that Chas McCormick, Mauricio Dubon and Jake Meyers are all options for center field. We’d go into the numbers, but it’s not that important either. Nobody is Rodríguez, and just like Seattle can’t possibly match Alvarez, neither can the Astros here.
It never seems Kyle Tucker gets the respect he deserves, even though he’s now three seasons deep into being one of the best bats in baseball. Coming off his second straight 30-homer season, Tucker has a 135 OPS+ over the past three seasons combined, and he’s also sneakily good on the bases, successfully stealing 25 of 29 bases this year. Mitch Haniger is a good player as well, and it was only last year that he hit 39 home runs. But he’s no Tucker — on either side of the ball.
Whenever Alvarez is here, he is a huge advantage over Carlos Santana, and we expect that to be the case in the Seattle games (if not more, since most of Alvarez’s postseason non-DH starts came in NL parks when the DH was no longer available under the rules at the time ). When Alvarez is on the left, Trey Mancini likely to start here, though he has done little since joining Houston (75 OPS+). That you get any Alvarez here — we guess — is enough of an advantage.
This is the one area where Houston’s ability to rest while Seattle had to go to Toronto will be useful, because Louis Castle will likely start in Game 2 and only see twice if the series goes a full five games. It is not exactly a a problem that Logan Gilbert will start Game 1 for the Mariners, of course; he just posted a 3.20 ERA in a very efficient first full season. But he’s not Justin Verlandereither, the living legend, the ageless wonder, the owner of a 1.75 ERA and almost certain AL Cy Young Award winner.
That would probably stand up Robbie Ray for Game 3, and even though he’s the defending AL Cy Young winner, he hasn’t been effective down the stretch (4.32 in six September/October starts), or in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series (four runs allowed in three innings ) , or against Houston this year (.442/.509/.865 against in three starts).
If you pass by wOBA, an OPS-like statistic that does a better job of adjusting for the value of extra-base hits, then the Mariners had the second-best bullpen this year, allowing just a .274 mark. Or they were tied for second, anyway … with the Astros, who also allowed a .274 mark. They were both well rested down the stretch, facing fewer batters than any of the 28 other teams.
Needless to say, there isn’t much separation here, and if things go according to plan for Houston, they won’t even really need to rely on the bullpen as much as they expect their starters to be able to sink into games. This one is close, and we’ll give a slight edge to Seattle for having Andres Muñozpossibly the most overpowering bullpen arm in the series.
The Astros have home field advantage, a fairly large lineup and a better rotation that is rested and established. They don’t have, for what it’s worth, Julio Rodríguez, and they’ll be entering what should be an absolutely wild Seattle atmosphere for what will be the Mariners’ first home playoff game in more than two decades. Seattle will win one game, maybe two. But they won’t win three.