SEATTLE (AP) — When the Seattle Mariners were rolling in the middle of June, it appeared unlikely anyone in their own division would be contending with them for one of the wild card spots in the American League.
On Wednesday, the Mariners were knocked from the lead for the second wild-card in the AL, caught by division rival Oakland.
Marwin Gonzalez hit two of Houston’s four home runs, and the Astros beat the Mariners 8-3, dropping Seattle into a tie with the Athletics in the wild-card race. Seattle led the A’s by 11 games in the middle of June, but has seen the entire lead disappear over the past six weeks.
“I’m not worried really about anybody else right now. We need to get back to playing like we’re capable of playing. It just hasn’t happened here recently,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “We’ll have a good game here or there. But like I said, start putting together some streaks together, just quality game after game, good pitching, more importantly on offense, we’ve got to do more offensively.”
The Mariners were 21 games over .500 at 46-25 after a 1-0 win on June 16, while Oakland was just below .500 at 35-36. Seattle hasn’t played terribly in the following six weeks, but its 17-20 record is pedestrian compared to Oakland’s 29-10 mark and why the A’s have caught up so quickly.
“We have to get back to playing really good baseball and then we’ll worry about the other guys,” Servais said.
Both the Mariners and A’s are still looking up at Houston in the AL West. After a five-game losing streak, the Astros rebounded to win the final two games of the series. Houston has a five-game cushion over both teams.
Gonzalez hit a solo home run off Wade LeBlanc (6-2) with two outs in the second inning and added a two-run shot in the fourth. Jake Marisnick, recalled from the minors before the game, added a two-run shot off LeBlanc and Max Stassi greeted reliever Nick Vincent with a three-run homer in the fifth to break the game open.
Gonzalez had the third multihomer game of his career after not hitting a longball since June 27 against Toronto.
“When you look at our team when we’re at our best, it is guys like Marwin and (Josh) Reddick. Stassi hit a big home run today. Jake comes up from the minor leagues and immediately produces,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “This is a very deep team, and when you go through some stretches that you don’t play your best, you can kind of forget that this team is built pretty well.”
LeBlanc’s outing was his worst of the season as he was unable to locate his off-speed pitches down in the strike zone. The seven earned runs were the second-most allowed in his career as a starter and the three homers matched a career high. LeBlanc lost for the second time in his past four starts after winning his first five decisions of the season.
Dallas Keuchel (9-9) improved to 6-1 in his past nine starts, throwing seven innings, allowing three runs and striking out two. He retired 11 straight at one point and 11 of the 21 outs he recorded came via the groundball.
The bottom of Seattle’s lineup pieced together four consecutive hits in the second, capped by RBI singles from Andrew Romine and Zach Vincej. But Seattle’s offense continued to lag and was otherwise limited to Nelson Cruz’s solo home run in the sixth, his 26th of the season.
“For us to get a series win here was big, but it’s not make or break,” Keuchel said. “We know we’re good enough to win this division. It’s just a matter of getting guys healthy.”
Astros: Houston optioned OF Kyle Tucker to Triple-A Fresno to clear a roster spot for Marisnick. Marisnick was optioned to Fresno on July 13.
Mariners: Seattle optioned OF Ben Gamel and RHP Chasen Bradford to clear roster spots for the addition of Cameron Maybin and new reliever Adam Warren. Manager Scott Servais said while Gamel has been a better hitter, the decision was to keep Guillermo Heredia as the Mariners’ fourth outfielder because he provides more versatility. Servais said to expect more of a platoon in left field in the coming weeks between Heredia and Denard Span to take advantage of left-right matchups on the mound.
Astros: OF George Springer was out of the lineup after leaving Tuesday’s game with a sore shoulder. He’s listed as day-to-day.
Mariners: 1B Ryon Healy was scratched because of lower back tightness shortly before first pitch. ... 3B Kyle Seager is expected to return from paternity leave and rejoin the club on Thursday.
Astros: After an off day, the Astros will open a three-game series in Los Angeles in a World Series rematch with the Dodgers. Justin Verlander (10-6) will start the opener.
Mariners: Felix Hernandez (8-9) makes perhaps his most important start of the year in the opener of a four-game series with Toronto. Hernandez lasted just 2 2/3 innings and was rocked for seven runs in his last start against the Angels, prompting questions about whether he would stay in the rotation. If he has another bad outing, watch for a possible change.