The Seattle Mariners returned home from a road trip as the hottest team in baseball, owning a 13-2 record, mashing home runs like a beer league softball team and creating buzz around the sport as the early surprise team of 2019.
Then this happened:
Friday: Jose Altuve and Yuli Gurriel hit grand slams as the Astros pounded out 16 hits in rallying from a 3-0 deficit to win 10-6.
Saturday: The Mariners got a quality start from Felix Hernandez, but Justin Verlander fanned 11 in six innings, and Altuve homered for the fifth straight game for a 3-1 victory.
Sunday: Gerrit Cole matched Verlander with 11 K's in six innings, the bullpen tossed three hitless innings, and Aledmys Diaz hit the decisive home run in the seventh inning for a 3-2 victory.
That's only the first three of 19 games between the teams, but in case you were starting to buy some of the Mariners' mojo, the Astros sent notice to the Pacific Northwest that they're still the boss of the AL West. The three big takeaways from the series are pretty obvious:
The Astros have Verlander and Cole, and the Mariners don't.
The Astros turned to hard-throwing relievers Brad Peacock, Hector Rondon, Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna to get key outs and finish games. The Mariners turned to no-names such as Shawn Armstrong (making his season debut), R.J. Alaniz (making his major league debut) and Brandon Brennan (a rookie Rule 5 pick).
Altuve looks healthy and locked in again after the knee injury that curtailed his production down the stretch last season.
The Astros have won nine in a row -- hitting .314 with a .932 OPS during the streak -- and what's impressive is that it has come not against the AL Central bottom-feeders but against the A's, Yankees and Mariners. The road to a third straight 100-season has begun.
Marquez digs Rockies out of the bunker: It has been a nightmare start for the Rockies. They entered Sunday with an eight-game losing streak, including an 18-inning loss to the Giants on Friday. They had been shut out three times in 15 games while hitting .203. Nolan Arenado had yet to homer. Ian Desmond had batted 56 times and hadn't scored a run.
So, yes, they needed German Marquez's one-hit gem to beat the Giants 4-0. Marquez took a no-hitter into the eighth -- the perfect game was ruined when he hit Kevin Pillar leading off the sixth -- and had thrown just 76 pitches, so pitch count wasn't the issue it is with so many no-hit bids these days. Brandon Crawford led off the eighth and grounded a one-hopper to third base, with the ball bounding off Arenado and into the air, where he grabbed it and threw out Crawford. With a little luck like that, the final five outs felt like a sure thing.
Instead, Evan Longoria, the next batter, grounded a base hit past a diving Arenado, who threw down his glove in disgust after not making what would have been a miracle play. Marquez got the final five outs, and though he missed throwing the second no-hitter in Rockies history (Ubaldo Jimenez threw one in 2010), he recorded the first complete game in the majors this season. Via game score, it was the second-best game in Rockies history:
Jon Gray, Sept. 17, 2016, vs. Padres: 95
Marquez, April 14, 2019, vs. Giants: 94
Jeff Francis, July 24, 2006, vs. Cardinals: 91
Darryl Kile, Sept. 20, 1998, vs. Padres: 91
Chad Bettis, Sept. 5, 2016, vs. Giants: 90
Jimenez walked six and fanned seven in his no-hitter, which scores an 88.
Make no mistake: Marquez has become one of the best pitchers in the majors. Going back to last year's All-Star break, he's 8-4 with a 2.48 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 120 innings. In that span, he ranks sixth in ERA, first in innings, third in strikeouts and tied with Jacob deGromfor first in quality starts.
P.S: Arenado finally hit his first home run.
Anderson tees one up: Big weekend for the White Sox to take two of three at Yankee Stadium -- and the first time since 2003 that they've won two straight series at Yankee Stadium. On Friday, Eloy Jimenez hit the first two home runs of his career, and Tim Anderson delivered the big blow in Sunday's 5-2 win with a fourth-inning grand slam off Masahiro Tanaka:
Anderson is a key player for the White Sox if this current rebuild is going to work. He hit 20 home runs and swiped 26 bases last season, but a poor approach at the plate negated those positives and led to a .240 average, .281 OBP and 149 strikeouts. Anderson's chase rate last season was 38 percent, one of the highest figures in the majors; indeed, pitchers knew he was going to hack away, so fewer than half the pitches he saw were in the strike zone.
That's why Tanaka's 0-1 pitch was especially terrible -- an 0-1 splitter that didn't split. Obviously, he wanted it in the dirt, hoping Anderson would swing over the top of it. Fueled by a .500 BABIP, Anderson is off to an excellent start with a .429/.440/.653 line, but with the same high chase rate and aggressive approach, don't expect the big improvement on his 2018 numbers to stick.
As for the Yankees, this wasn't exactly the lineup Brian Cashman and Aaron Boone envisioned back in spring training: Clint Frazier at DH, Brett Gardner in center, Gio Urshela at third, Kyle Higashioka at catcher and Mike Tauchman in left. The Yankees' depth has been tested early, and though it's easy to blame injuries for the 6-9 start, the bullpen is 4-4 and entered Sunday ranked 25th in win probability added. Plus, starters J.A. Happ and James Paxton are off to slow starts. It's worth noting that they've had an easy schedule so far, other than three games in Houston (they lost all three), with six games against the Orioles. They'll get a test this week with their first two games against the Red Sox.
Driving range: The Phillies beat the Marlins 3-1 on Jean Segura's two-run home run in the 14th inning:
Terrific job by the Phillies' bullpen, tossing seven innings of three-hit baseball with 14 strikeouts, including six from Victor Arano, who fanned every batter he faced.
Fly like an eagle: Byron Buxton made some magic in center field as the Twins beat the Tigers 6-4:
Buxton is off to a nice start at the plate, hitting .324/.378/.559. He hasn't homered, but he has six doubles and a triple in 34 at-bats, so he's doing some good things with the bat. At this point, it almost feels like any offense from Buxton will be a bonus, but his second half in 2017 will always serve as a teaser of what he might do at the plate. I still think he's one of the most important players in the league, a potential 5-WAR player if he can stay healthy and do some damage at the plate. Good to see him off to a positive start after a lost 2018.
Cole's 11 K's fuel Astros win
Gerrit Cole strikes out 11 Mariners to lead the Astros to a 3-2 win on the road.