So… The Astros or the Mariners?
Seven American League challengers have come and gone in our Tale of the Tape series, and so far I believe that the Mariners are the better team. As we stated earlier, this titanic matchup between the little and big brother seems inevitable. The Mariners are 34-74 against the Astros since 2017. Do Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais have enough to turn the tide?
Lineup: As rosters currently stand, I think these two lineups are closer than people think. If everyone is healthy, then yes, Houston has a clear advantage, but not everyone is healthy. With Brantley and Altuve both injured and looking like months away from seeing the field, that changes the dynamic.
As long as Brantley and Altuve are out, the Astros will have 4 players in their lineup who produced at least a 120 OPS+ in 2022, while the Mariners will have 5 such players. Julio Rodriguez is not quite in the Yordan realm of dominance, but the rest of the lineup for the next two months should be able to hang.
As the calendar turns to June and the summer months, will Seattle be able to hang with that lineup, plus Altuve and Brantley? Unless we see a shocking rise in production from Jarred Kelenic, which is not fair to expect of him, or a big trade deadline acquisition, I give the nod to Houston.
Bullpen: One of the biggest strengths of both teams in 2022, these team's bullpens should both be at the top of the league in 2023. Houston finished last season with the best bullpen ERA in all of baseball at 2.80, while the Mariners were 6th with a 3.33 team ERA.
While the gap is razor-thin, I believe the Seattle Mariners will have the better bullpen in 2023. With another year of development and postseason experience for the quartet of Munoz, Brash, Sewald, and Castillo, they should have most leads after 7 innings on lockdown. Not to be forgotten, Penn Murfee was a spectacular surprise last season, and there's some serious talent in the minor leagues that I believe will make their way to the big leagues.
Pressly is a mainstay of consistency in Houston, and while guys like Montero, Abreu and Stanek were otherworldly in a special 2022 season, I think the likelihood they repeat those numbers is unlikely.
Rotation: In what could potentially decide the division race, and potentially a World Series berth, the two best rotations in the American League will decide the winner.
Just because the Astros lost Verlander, their rotation is ranked #1 in most AL rankings. As Seattle showed in the ALDS, they have the horses to hang with Houston. Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby all proved they were up to the task, giving up only 6 runs in 27.2 playoff innings. They were good, but Houston's rotation was otherworldly in October. For the Mariners to get to great, they need Robbie Ray to turn the tide.
Despite how a lot of people feel, Robbie Ray had a strong season. Was he the Cy Young pitcher from 2021? No, but as he picked up that 2-seam fastball (on the fly), he looked more like the #1 level starter Seattle needs. While he was pitching really well for over 2 months straight, there was one problem, he couldn't pitch against Houston. Crushed in Houston, crushed in Seattle, crushed in October. Ray has to be right there with Luis Castillo for this team to make the leap over Houston. Hearing that was able to get into better physical shape this winter, develop a devastating-looking splitter, and be arguably the best pitcher in baseball this spring training, there's hope that Seattle gets the 2021 version of Robbie Ray.
The battle of these rotations are just so close!
Mariners vs Astros... The Verdict
I believe that the Seattle Mariners are going to have what it takes to overtake the Astros. They will win their first division title in over two decades, they'll have the home-field advantage, and they will be the team to bring an end to the Houston dynasty, as they hope to create their own reign.
This is going to happen, but not until 2024.
The Mariners are so close, but I expect them to fall just short of the Astros for the division in 2023, and will have a playoff series that will go the full 5 or 7 games, before they come up just short again. That pain will lead to motivation, and the Mariners will get the job done next year.
I hope I'm wrong, and a major trade deadline acquisition could pivot this Tale of the Tape this is much closer than people think, but for now, I believe the champs will wear the crown until somebody rips it off their head.
Tale of the Tape Winner: Houston Astros… (for now)