BY Art Thiel 06:10PM 05/25/2014

Thiel: Little Astros remain a Mariners vexation

Houston Astros are 12-7 at Safeco Field, adding one more Sunday in a 4-1 triumph that had Mariners manager McClendon grousing about making average pitchers look great.

Jose Altuve, all of 5-foot-5, has come up big against the Mariners. / Wiki Commons

Fortunately for the Mariners,  the sorry As-tros have left town, succeeded this week by easier marks such as the Angels and Tigers. The Mariners can’t take much more from the worst team in Major League Baseball.

Bad enough the Mariners trail in the AL West a team with half their payroll. Now they get beat up by a team with half their talent.

Houston did it again Sunday, working Hisashi Iwakuma into his first loss, ending the streaks of James Jones and Robinson Cano and generally over-performing for their station in the baseball cosmos, winning 4-1. After scoring a season high in runs Saturday with a 9-4 win, the Astros not only head out with a 2-2 series split, they are 12-7 at Safeco Field and 19-19 in their sordid history with Seattle.

The Mariners are letting Beavis and Butthead ride into town, drink their whiskey, grab their women and steal their horses.

Judging by the growl and rumble in manager Lloyd McClendon’s baritone, he’s getting a little weary of the wussiness.

“At some point you’ve got to stop giving credit to average pitchers,” he said, taking a direct shot at Houston starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who pitched a complete-game four-hitter. “That becomes a broken record. At some point, we’ve got to start swinging the bats.”

And the corollary: You have to stop making average hitters great.

Iwakuma was off, drifting pitches up in the strike zone and providing little mystery in his pitch selections. He gave up nine hits in his seven innings, including two-run homers to George Springer in the sixth and Marc Krauss in the seventh.  That’s right, Springer and Krauss, who may as well be Maris and Mantle to the Mariners.

Saturday night, Springer, in his 33rd major league game, had career-highs of two homers and five RBIs. It could have been written off to the starting pitcher, Brandon Maurer, who does that to a lot of lineups. But Iwakuma?

“They had nine hits, but it didn’t feel like nine hits,” said the Mariners No. 2 starter, who apparently was watching a different game in his head. It actually seemed like more, but a couple of double plays muted the damage.

And then, there’s Jose Altuve. The teensy tormentor. The vicious varmint. The Oompa Loompa of MLB.

Altuve, all five-foot-five of him, had two hits Sunday, scoring on Springer’s homer. For the four-game series, he was 9 for 16 with a homer and a walk. Yes, he hits a lot of teams that way — his 70 hits leads the majors. But 21 percent are off Seattle pitching.

Altuve is a 24-year-old second baseman from Venezuela in his fourth season, but suddenly he seems as good as Cano. Besides hitting .326 to Cano’s .323 (his 31-game streak of reaching base is over), Altuve has an 85-game errorless streak, a franchise record and the longest active streak in the majors. And he leads the American League in stolen bases with 17.

With Altuve hitting leadoff, and the 24-year-old Springer, a right-fielder, hitting second, the Astros apparently are set at the top of the lineup for about the next decade.

“It’s a great combination at the top,” said Astros manager Bo Porter. “It’s a good one-two combination when you have a guy like Altuve swinging the bat like he’s swinging the bat and Springer’s ability to get on anybody’s fastball.”

Meanwhile, the Mariners (24-25), neither hopeless nor hapless this season, nevertheless can’t sustain much on offense.

“I saw average stuff,” a defiant McClendon said of Kuechel, who’s now 6-2 with a 2.55 ERA. “We didn’t swing the bats very good.

“It had nothing to do with the approach. We had four hits. You don’t win games with four hits and one run.”

The Mariners would have been shut out if it hadn’t been for a throwing error on Kuechel.

In the second inning, Mike Zunino and Michael Saunders each had singles. Cole Gillespie had a swinging bunt that Kuechel fielded but threw wildly to first, allowing Zunino to score. But Kuechel struck out SS Brad Miller — back in the lineup for the first time in four games — to end the threat. He was the first of 22 batters to face Kuechel, and he allowed only one baserunner, a seventh-inning single by Kyle Seager.

If McClendon is right about Kuechel having “average” stuff, the Mariners are in trouble. Some good pitchers are coming up in the season’s longest homestand, which means the Seattle offense might be looking at production that makes Altuve look like Barry Bonds.


  • Jamo57

    That’ll teach Bill Kreuger to make fun of the Astros in the pre-game show. Anyone connected with the Ms can ill afford to put down anyone!

    • art thiel

      Missed Bill’s observation. But Root personnel are paid to lead cheers.

  • jafabian

    I’m a Jose Altuve fan from last season. If he was a SS I’d say the M’s should go after him. If the Astros had a 1-2 punch in the rotation anywhere near the M’s and a solid set up man and closer they’d be right there with the M’s in the AL West. They make mistakes in the field occasionally but that’s all due to their being a young team. The M’s simply take them too lightly every time, another sign of another young team.

    • art thiel

      Mariners had only a 10-9 edge last season with the Astros. Kuechel is a better pitcher than McClendon, or anyone, thinks. Amazing how often M’s bats fall dead at once, regardless of pitcher.

      • just passing thru

        Kuechel has won four straight, against the LaaaLaaaLaaa Angles (sic), Tigers, Rangers and now the Ms. Pretty average stuff.

        • art thiel

          Well said.

          • just passing thru


      • jafabian

        If you take McLendon’s statement and replace the word “average” with “mediocre” he sounds awfully familiar.

  • Richard

    Art, are you as irritated as I am at ownership for not doing anything but bring up Triple A players whenever there is a need? It is beyond frustrating to see ownership act like they have no money to spend, obviously they are in desperate need for offense and for them not to go make a sincere effort to sign Kendrys Morales immediately is a total slap in the face to the fans. If you go through our lineup, outside of Robinson Cano there is not one player that would make it onto any good team’s lineup with the possible exception of Kyle Seager and he for the last year has been the definition of average but on the Mariners he is considered a good hitter. Why won’t you write an article saying basically that this “we are out of money” stuff is such a turn-off and and absolute insult to the fan base. The Mariners are dangerously close to becoming a complete non-factor in the Seattle sports scene once we get near Seahawks training camp and the first season of Chris Peterson at the UW. It seems like someone like you who has credibility should just put it out there that for them to do nothing about their offense but bring up guys from Triple A is a complete joke.

    Thank you Art,

    • art thiel

      Actually, Richard, I’ve written a few times that the Mariners had the resources, before and after the Root RSN acquisition, to fund the team better. But it is rarely the amount of money, it’s how they spend it. The Mariners’ payroll since moving into Safeco has been average to above average in MLB. But as the A’s and other successful smaller market teams have shown, spending wisely is the key. The Mariners have consistently failed at that, which leads them to desperate maneuvers such as the Cano hire.

      Regarding callups, I beg to differ. Fact is, the Mariners are too eager to bring up young players before they are ready. The best clubs, like St. Louis, don’t panic at every injury or sub-par performance and rush to the bigs kids who aren’t ready. The M’w may have gotten lucky with Zunino, but Ackley, Smoak, Saunders, Miller, Maurer and Ramirez have had long, erratic trials at the MLB level. They may have been served better with more seasoning.

      • just passing thru

        Maurer is the perfect example of the Ms failure to develop kids in the minors. (well, maybe the rest are too.)

        I’d like to see Maurer have extended time in AAA to regain his confidence and location. This is not a contending line up – no need to pressure him like it is. He has good stuff and I think they’ll end up regretting it if they give up on him and dump him in a lame trade for a League or second-tier OF prospect, a la Fister and Morrow.

        • art thiel

          I don’t think they’ll throw him away. But I’ve been wrong in that regard before. Two years, and he’ll be an All-Star for the Twins, or someone, and the Mariners will have DFA’d what they received in return.

    • jafabian

      They tried to sign Morales at mid-season last year. They’ve offered him several deals, all of which he declined. He simply doesn’t want to be here and that’s his right. Let’s not forget his agent is Scott Boras. I expect Morales will be a Ranger in June. A better team with a better hitter’s park.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    These Houston guys do overachieve against the Ms and its distasteful to watch. Its going to end up pricing themselves out of Houston if they keep wracking up gaudy stats against the Mariners because Houston wont pay for good/efficient stats when new contracts come up. Iwakuma was not the same guy we have enjoyed most of his career here today. Still , we only score one run for him again. That just puts too much pressure on the pitcher night in and night out. Skipper also does have a point…you should be having a field day against an average opposing pitcher not a offensive swoon like we saw sunday. Its a bit disheartening.

    • art thiel

      Don’t know that Houston won’t pay.They control these guys’ rights for six years, which is long enough to overtake the Mariners.

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    They did well against Felix a few weeks back and now Iwakuma too… my goodness if the Astros can do it against what we perceive as two great pitchers it would be nice for the Ms to find a way to do the same against Kuechel and these other guys who pitch off the Richter scale against our team.

    • art thiel

      With a lot recent high draft picks, the Astros have one of the top-five prospects lists in MLB, according to those who survey such things. Prospects are only that. Just don’t tell the Mariners.

  • Bayview Herb

    I have two baseball questions. first, I thought for it to be a save, the closer had to face the tying run. The other night, he had a three-one lead and got out of the inning without a base runner. The booth called it a save. Second question. What is the significance of the blue and white rope necklaces?

    • gbironman

      As far as I know there are two ways to get a save. 1 is to take over a game that your team is winning by 3 runs or less and keep the lead to win the game. 2 is to have a lead of any number and pitch at least the final 3 innings of the game (you don’t see that one very often). There may be other ways, thats what I love about baseball – there is always some obsure rule out there that only the diehards know about.

      • Bayview Herb

        And the blue and white rope necklaces?

    • notaboomer

      tying run on base, at bat, or on deck. thus in the 3-1 game, the tying run would be at least on deck. plus that 3 innings or more thing also.

  • rosetta_stoned

    I do get a kick out of Mariner fans (and writers) mocking a franchise who’s been to the World Series (2005) more recently than the Ms have sniffed the post-season at all.

    • art thiel

      Fair shot.