Categories: MLB

Mariners at Astros MLB Pick September 18

Seattle Mariners (+157)
Houston Astros (-167)
Total: 8 1/2

The Houston Astros aren’t quite home free in their quest for a second consecutive AL West crown, but they’re on the doorstep. The Astros currently hold a 4-game edge on the Oakland Athletics atop the division with just 12 games to go. It’s certainly not impossible to make up a 4-game difference in the span of 12 contests, but it doesn’t help the A’s that the teams have no head-to-head games left this season. It would take something of a collapse from Houston and another surge from Oakland in order for the A’s to steal the division.

With something of a cushion here, manager A.J. Hinch has decided to get an extra day of rest for one of his aces. Gerrit Cole was originally slated to start tonight’s game against the Seattle Mariners, but Hinch pushed his outing back to Wednesday. Instead, Houston will get a look at rookie right-hander Josh James. Mike Leake will pitch on the other side for Seattle.

James has pitched in 3 games since getting called up at the beginning of September, one of which was a start. He’s looked quite good since coming up. In his first start, a home outing against the Los Angeles Angels, James struck out 9 while allowing 3 runs over the course of 5 innings. All 3 runs came on a home run from Kole Calhoun, but James managed to pitch around the dong on the way to what was eventually a 7-3 win for Houston.

James was a late draft pick of the Astros but he really came on strong over the last year or so in the minor leagues. Once he was diagnosed with sleep apnea, he was able to get better rest and that led to better results on the field. The right-hander boasted a hefty 35.2 percent strikeout rate this season at the Triple-A level, and he’s come up and registered a K-rate north of 40 percent in limited big league duty to this point.

He typically tops out around 100 miles an hour with his fastball, and his plus change-up helps keep hitters off-balance. His SIERA of 2.34 is quite a bit more favorable than his 4.22 ERA to this point. I would certainly expect that almost freakishly low SIERA to correct itself moving forward, but it’s pretty clear that the Astros may have something here in the young arm. The Mariners offense on the other side is a solid one, but the pitcher typically has the advantage when facing a group of hitters seeing his stuff for the first time.

As for Leake, he’s had an up and down campaign to this point for Seattle. His 3.99 ERA is nice, but his 4.35 SIERA is a bit more pedestrian. Contrary to James, Leake doesn’t generate many outs via the punchout. Leake has a strikeout rate just over 15 percent on the year, which is well below average. Instead, the right-hander usually relies on generating soft-hit ground balls. His ground ball rate over 49 percent on the season is favorable, but he’s allowed a hard contact rate over 36 percent. Ground balls don’t turn into easy outs if the ball is being hit that hard that often.

Leake has also allowed 22 home runs across his 29 starts, marking the eighth straight season in which the veteran has been taken deep at least 20 times. His reverse splits likely won’t be doing him any favors tonight, either. Leake has allowed a .342 wOBA on the season against right-handed hitters, while he’s stifled lefties for the most part to the tune of a .298 wOBA. The Astros offense on the other side tonight is one of the best and deepest in baseball, and it also happens to include quite a few potent right-handed hitters.

In Alex Bregman, George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Tyler White and others, Leake will have several tough righties to navigate here tonight. Minute Maid Park’s pitcher-friendly tendencies figure to help, but the short porch in left field could also lead to some home run issues.

I’m a big believer in the talent of James, while Leake is far more of an average pitcher at this stage of his career. The Mariners’ playoff hopes have just about dried up by now, while Houston is gearing up for another run to the World Series. The Astros will be smarting from the tough loss they endured last night, so I think they come out guns-a-blazin’ here and take it to Leake and the rest of the Seattle pitching staff.

Give me the Astros on the runline in this one.

Taylor Smith

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Taylor Smith

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