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Houston Astros

OK, a while ago we all thought this might be a big series—nearing the end of the year, Houston trying to hang on to first place, the M's at their heels. Eh, not quite.

It's still big for the Astros, only it's the Oakland A's that are at their heels instead of Seattle. While mathematically still alive, the M's have slipped behind Tampa Bay in the Wild Card standings and pretty much everyone including Scott Servais seems to have given up on the season. But, it's baseball, and weird things happen. So play on.

The Astros' lineup is healthy for once—when last the M's saw them, they were missing José Altuve, and previous to that Carlos Correa and George Springer had been on the DL—but they are at home, and Houston has not performed as well as you would think when playing for the hometown crowd. While a .560 winning percentage is nothing to sneeze at, it's not near the .703 mark they have on the road, and for the months of July and August Houston was a mere four games over .500. They rebounded for September (so far), wining 12 of their first 14 of the month, but the 'Stros have to feel like they're falling behind the A's in slow motion. The Mariners swept them the last time Seattle visited Minute Maid Park, and hopefully they can put some more pressure on the Houston squad in this series.

Wade LeBlanc, Mike Leake, and someone who is not James Paxton will start for Seattle in these three games. Paxton is not expected to have recovered sufficiently from illness to take the hill on Wednesday.

Players to Watch

cole2Gerrit Cole: The rich getting richer. That's what happened when the Astros poached Cole from Pittsburgh over the offseason, as if they didn't already boast the best starting five in decades. Cole is as good as they come—currently 5th in the league in ERA, 4th in strikeouts, 2nd in winning percentage, and 4th in WHIP. And he isn't even the best pitcher on his team.

reddickJosh Reddick: No matter what uniform he wears, this guy is always a thorn in Seattle's side. His overall numbers aren't remotely scary, but the former Red Sock and Oakland A has hit 14 homers against the Mariners in his 10-year career, including three (and 8 RBI) in 2018.

bregmanAlex Bregman: Formerly an under-the-radar star player, Bregman drew the ire of Mariner fans and right-thinking baseball watchers everywhere when he was awarded this year's All-Star Game MVP honors over the more deserving Jean Segura. Yes, he leads the Astros in OBP with Altuve out of action, yes, he's a fine player who deserves respect, and true, he isn't the one who chose to name him MVP. But let's revile him anyway.

Manager

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A.J. Hinch: The former A’s, Tigers, Royals, and Phillies catcher has had substantially more success in his second managerial gig than his first. After scuffling to a .420 winning percentage in less than two full seasons with the Diamondbacks, Hinch has a .565 mark thus far with the Astros, including, of course, last year's World Championship. Baseball America's 2017 Manager of the Year finished third in the official AL Manager of the Year voting, likely because, come on, most managers could win with the team Houston fielded last year. But Hinch is well-liked and respected by his players and gets the most out of a highly talented group.

Familiar Face

No one on the Astros' roster nor on the coaching staff has played for Seattle. 

Franchise History

Houston Astros AL(2013 - present)
 
World Champions:2017
League Champions:2005
Division Titles:1980, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001

— Notes —

Yuri Gurriel served a five-game suspension early this season for his behavior during last year's World Series. Gurriel mocked the Dodgers' Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish by making racist remarks and an offensive gesture that was caught on camera, and for good or ill, the Commissioner's office decided to allow him to continue playing in the Series and delay his punishment until the start of 2018. For his part, Darvish didn't hold a grudge and accepted Gurriel's apology. "He played in Japan, and I have respect for him," Darvish said. "As citizens of the world, if we can learn from this and take a step forward, I think this could be a good thing."

José Altuve: The shortest player in the Major Leagues at just under five-foot-six, Altuve has inspired the measurement unit known as OSLA, or Official Standard Listed Altuves. For reference, the height of the outfield wall at Safeco Field = 1.48 OSLA; distance between Major League bases = 16.614 OSLA;  altitude of Mt. Rainier = 2,660.3 OSLA; distance from Earth to the moon = 232,858,039.5 OSLA. You can find a feet-to-OSLA converter online at www.howmanyaltuves.com.

Marwin González played six different positions last year (and in 2016), showing equal competence at all of them. He also switch-hits. One of these days he'll probably try pitching, and who wants to bet he won't strike someone out? He's the first player to appear in 19+ games at five different positions since Cesar Tovar in 1968.

Justin Verlander dominated the Yankees in May, striking out 19 in 1423 innings over two starts, prompting the always-classy crowd at Yankee Stadium to boo him off the field as he left the mound in the 7th inning on May 28th. Verlander responded by tipping his cap to the hostile throng of New Yorkers.

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