There’s little doubt the Mariners have one of the more potent lineups in the game, but when you compare their talent to that of the Astros, there’s still a Texas-sized gap.
Sometimes it’s easier to just look away. Sometimes it’s far more soothing to close your eyes, put a finger in each ear and scream “la la la!”
I can’t help but think that myriad Mariners fans took that approach as the Astros upgraded their already herculean roster this offseason. With some things, you just don’t want to know.
Yes, the M’s beat Houston, 2-1, Monday thanks to a masterful performance by James Paxton and three relievers. And yes, they temporarily passed the Astros in the standings three weeks into the season. But that doesn’t change the fact that Houston is the most loaded team in baseball.
The Astros are nearly six months removed from winning the World Series after racking up 101 victories. They produced the American League MVP in Jose Altuve, tallied an MLB-high 896 runs and rocked one of the better rotations in the game.
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These types of numbers and accomplishments typically signify an organization’s peak. With Houston, though, they might simply be a prelude.
Do you think the Astros have gotten even better since last year? Mariners manager Scott Servais was asked.
“That’s not for me to say,” he said.
OK, I’ll say it — yes.
Justin Verlander is a former Cy Young winner who has been among the top five vote-getters for the award six times. He didn’t pitch for Houston until Sept. 5 last year. When you have your ace for six months as opposed to one, you’re going to get better.
Gerrit Cole was fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2015, when he won 19 games and logged a 2.60 ERA for the Pirates. When you add a pitcher with top-of-the-rotation potential, you’re going to get better.
Carlos Correa had the American League’s ninth-best WAR despite injuries limiting him to 109 games. If you can get a full season from one of the league’s best young players, you’re going to … well, you get the point.
There’s little doubt the Mariners have one of the more potent lineups in the game, and the acquisition of Mike Leake in late August has added depth on the mound. But when you compare their talent to that of the Astros, there’s still a Texas-sized gap.
Houston hammered this point home throughout last season. In 2017, the Mariners finished 73-70 against teams not named the Astros, but were just 5-14 against the division champs.
That isn’t a rivalry for Seattle so much as it is revelry for Houston. And the Mariners were predictably displeased with the results.
“It’s definitely frustrating, concerning — we’re trying to jump into a playoff spot and a team that you play that many times beats you, it’s definitely not good for you,” M’s third baseman Kyle Seager said. “If you play a team three times and they beat you three times, that’s a ‘Who cares?’ But when you match up 19 times you definitely need to play better.”
Obviously, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto’s offseason plan wasn’t to just shrug and say “We’re screwed.” But you also have to wonder how much the Mariners improved.
After Seattle lost its sixth consecutive game to Houston last year, Servais said that the M’s had to add athleticism and get more run protection to try and catch up. Did they, though?
Obviously, the addition of Dee Gordon speaks to the athletic part, but Seattle also lost speedster Jarrod Dyson, who was a more experienced center fielder. And while first baseman Ryon Healy, a former third baseman, was an upgrade defensively, his advanced fielding numbers (which are admittedly hard to judge) don’t pop off the screen.
So how does Seattle catch up? Well, I think there are a lot of people in the Mariners’ front office wondering the same thing.
Remember, the Astros had six consecutive losing seasons before 2015, including three in which they lost more than 105 games. They had the No. 1 overall pick three years in a row, two of which were busts.
Building winners takes time, and often takes luck. And the Mariners — they haven’t had a lot of luck in a long time.
Asked if it feels any different going against the World Series champions, Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz answered, “They’re the ones that you have to chase. You always compare yourself with the best.”
Despite the Angels’ hot start, there’s little question that the Astros are the best right now. At least in the American League West. There is, however, a question as to whether the Mariners can catch up instead of watching that gap grow.