Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker spoke on the need for different aspects of his club to perform well as to cover the uncertainty of a bullpen compromised by injury and reliant upon unproven arms.
Two games into this abbreviated regular season, Houston has flexed strong defense and lineup depth and breezed to a pair of victories over the visiting Seattle Mariners. In winning 7-2 on Saturday, the defense backed Lance McCullers early, while the offense mounted disciplined plate appearances in cobbling together a string of timely, run-scoring hits.
The Astros (2-0) will seek to claim a series victory when they host the Mariners on Sunday for the third game of a four-game series. If their defense continues to perform at an elite level, the odds of another triumph appear strong.
"Defense keeps you in the game until your offense can do something," Baker said. "This team was (Wilson) Defensive Team of the Year (last season), and you see why."
The Astros turned two double plays in support of McCullers, one each in the first and second innings, as McCullers labored to settle into his first start since Aug. 4, 2018. Houston also executed a pristine relay in the first when Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager doubled to center field with Evan White on first base. White held at third when shortstop Carlos Correa received the throw from George Springer in position to throw home, and was stranded there.
Offensively, the Astros received two-strike, run-scoring hits from Michael Brantley in the first inning, Yuli Gurriel in the fourth inning and Correa in the fifth, with Correa rallying from an 0-2 hole before running the count full and then delivering an RBI single that plated Jose Altuve.
"That's what we do," McCullers said. "It's been great to see the guys get into game action.
"It's what great teams do, and we've got a great lineup."
Right-hander Zack Greinke (18-5, 2.93 ERA in 2019) will start for the Astros on Sunday. He went 8-1 with a 3.02 ERA over 10 starts after being acquired from Arizona on July 31, 2019. But he finished 0-2 with a 4.68 ERA and 25 strikeouts over 25 innings and five postseason starts.
In 14 career appearances (12 starts) against the Mariners, Greinke is 7-1 with a 1.85 ERA. He made one start against Seattle last season, working 8 1/3 scoreless innings while allowing two hits and one walk with nine strikeouts in a 3-0 victory on Sept. 25, his final start of 2019.
Left-hander Yusei Kikuchi (6-11, 5.46 ERA in 2019) has the starting assignment for the Mariners on Sunday. In his first season with Seattle, the Japanese-born Kikuchi surrendered 36 home runs, tied with Astros right-hander Justin Verlander for second-most in the American League.
In four starts against the Astros last season, Kikuchi finished 0-2 and posted a 5.40 ERA while recording 15 strikeouts over 20 innings and allowing five homers -- all at Minute Maid Park. Kikuchi went 0-1 with a 6.43 ERA over three starts in Houston.
Veteran Dee Gordon made his first start of the season in left field on Saturday, a sign of things to come now that Gordon, a middle infielder by trade, has transitioned to a reserve utility role.
"Dee Gordon is a good baseball player," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "He's got really good instincts no matter where you put him on a baseball field. Trusting Dee and his instincts, I told him when we put him back out there, 'Don't worry about all the technical stuff. Just go catch it.' I really trust his instincts. Probably one of the sharper baseball minds we have on the team."
--Field Level Media