“Pretend you’ve been here before” is a common phrase in the postseason, and if there’s anything Mariners fans know about the Astros, it’s that they’ve definitely been here before.
After swept aside the Mariners in three straight American League Division Series games, Houston is heading towards a familiar goal: the AL Championship Series, which will be its sixth straight.
“Only the beginning”: After a heavy defeat, the season ends, the Mariners look forward to the future
However, after Houston’s decisive win in an epic 18-inning Game 3 Saturday at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, the Astros’ Twitter account took a different tack instead of acting like they’d been here before.
SEA you all next year. pic.twitter.com/ivfwPt0f7M
— Houston Astros (@astros) October 16, 2022
Well, that’s certainly interesting. A “Faith” sign? A little jab at the Mariners’ hilarious “SEA US RISE” slogan? And, my goodness, a broom! Well, I’ve never…
If I didn’t know better, I’d think the team, which has won five of the last six AL West titles and is now four wins away from making the World Series for the fourth time in that span, is a little stuck too seems to be little brothers from the same department. And here we thought maybe they could focus a little bit more on winning their first championship without a trash can signaling their spot ahead.
Okay, let’s get serious now. The Astros won that series fairly and honestly, or at least we have no reason to think it was anything else. The Mariners haven’t recorded a single win in the ALDS and will now compete in 2023 after losing nine of their last 10 regular-season games to Houston.
But the Astros know the Mariners are coming from them. And it has more to it than just a cute little Twitter graphic.
The ALDS’ final scores were 8-7 in Game 1, 4-2 in Game 2, and 1-0 after playing enough for a full doubleheader in Game 3. The M’s were never outside of those ball games. In fact, the Mariners led in 11 of the 36 total innings played in the series, while Houston led six (the remaining 19 were ties).
Not only that, the Mariners’ offense sent a pretty strong message early in the series that they weren’t afraid of the big baddies from Texas. They chased Justin Verlander, who is expected to be named an AL Cy Young Award winner for the third time in his career, with six runs to 10 hits and a four-inning walk in Game 1, a contest the Ms seemed to be doing well their way to victory until disaster struck in the final two innings. Think how different the series could have been if Seattle could have ended that game.
Of course not Seattle. But after finishing the regular season 90-72 and earning the second of the AL’s three playoff wildcards, the Mariners were not outplayed by Houston, who won the division 106-56 and had the best overall record in the AL ended . outmaneuvered? Secure. Robbie Raygate in Game 1, which gave the M’s a 7-3 lead after seven innings, certainly categorizes as such. disengaged? Yordan Alvarez’s two home runs and Jeremy Peña’s in the series all fit that bill.
But for a sweep, that was as close as it gets.
The Mariners’ pitching was as good as Houston’s. The Astros simply have a better roster and a lot more postseason experience, which offers a built-in winning culture for their youngest players like Peña and Hunter Brown, a rookie pitcher who pitched three scoreless innings in the ALDS.
After that series, Seattle’s own young players know how close the Ms are.
“We’re just as good as this team,” Kirby said after throwing seven scoreless innings on Saturday. “Just some things didn’t go our way. … Was there. You saw how we played this year. Just a little short. We’ve been fighting for each other all year and we’ll be fighting for years to come… We’re not afraid of anyone.”
Catcher Cal Raleigh added, “I think next year is going to be huge now that we have playoff experience and we know what it takes and we know who to beat. It will help us a lot.”
Thing is, the Astros are trying to stay on top of the mountain. The Mariners are rising and will only get better in 2023. It will be second or third full seasons for Kirby, Raleigh, Julio Rodríguez and Logan Gilbert, all homegrown players who had a 3.0 WAR or better per fan graph this year. Ty France and Eugenio Suárez will be back to solidify offense. Bullpen star Andrés Muñoz will be just 24 at the start of next season. And new ace Luis Castillo will be at the head of the rotation throughout the year.
Don’t forget that this is also set to be perhaps the biggest off-season in franchise history, with the Mariners needing more offensive firepower and willing to spend money, and lots of interesting names (Aaron Judge, Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts, um just to name a few) come onto the market.
The Mariners have made great strides in 2022 and have likely gone a little further than most anticipated. Their two-game AL Wild Card Series win in Toronto was eye-opening, especially considering the Blue Jays have been considered ahead of Seattle in terms of roster building thanks to young All-Stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette established itself as a cornerstone.
In the ALDS, the Ms just faced a team better than them – for now, and only better enough to beat them in three games totaling four runs.
I always think back to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls when it comes to young teams trying to initiate a changing of the guard. At the end of the 1980s, they had to meet the Detroit Pistons’ bad boys again and again in the playoffs. It took the Bulls four tries to get past Detroit, and each time they got a little bit closer. Took them to five games in 1987-88. Six games in 88-89. Seven games in 89-90. And 90-91, the Bulls finally came through and never looked back, winning the first of their six championships in eight years.
Likewise, this would never be passed to the Mariners. The Astros don’t leave the window wide open for them. But Seattle is breaking that window, and this team took the first big step this year in figuring out how to get through that.
And you better believe the Astros noticed.
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