(Photo credit: Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports)
The Seattle Mariners aren't in must-win mode just yet, but it's getting close.
The Mariners (84-72) dropped 1 1/2 games behind Houston (86-71) in the chase for the American League's third and final wild-card playoff berth with a 5-1 loss to the visiting Astros on Monday night.
Seattle, which will play host to Houston again on Tuesday, has two games left against the Astros before concluding the regular season with a four-game home series against the AL West-leading Texas Rangers (88-68).
"It's really a game at a time right now," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "We can't look any farther ahead. We need to win (Tuesday's) game. That's just where we're at in our season."
The Mariners have lost four games in a row overall, and they lost the past 10 games they played against teams with winning records.
"We know what's at stake," Seattle shortstop J.P. Crawford said. "That (stuff) is in the past now. We have to look forward to (Tuesday). We've got bigger games ahead of us right now. There's nothing we can do about these games, terrible losses. ... We have to keep our heads up and look at the positive side to play (Tuesday)."
The Astros got a vintage performance out of Justin Verlander to win the series opener on Monday. The 40-year-old right-hander took a shutout into the ninth inning and wound up allowing one run on three hits with eight strikeouts and one walk in eight-plus innings.
"This is just one of those years where nothing has been easy," said Verlander, referring to the Astros being swept in a three-game series by the lowly Kansas City Royals over the weekend to drop out of the division lead. "Maybe catch the right timing here and this can be the start of something, hopefully."
Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker went deep for the Astros, who snapped Mariners ace Luis Castillo's streak of eight consecutive victories. Houston remains 2 1/2 games behind Texas in the division.
The Tuesday game is scheduled to feature a matchup of right-handers, Houston's Cristian Javier (9-4, 4.64 ERA) and Seattle's George Kirby (11-10, 3.58).
Javier is 0-2 with a 5.25 ERA over his past five starts. He didn't get a decision on Wednesday in the Astros' 2-1 victory against visiting the Baltimore Orioles despite giving up just one run on three hits over five innings. He issued two walks and logged a season-high-tying 11 strikeouts.
Javier is 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA in eight career appearances (five starts) against the Mariners. He pitched well but didn't get a decision on May 5 in Seattle in his only meeting with the Mariners this season. Javier went seven innings and allowed three runs on three hits with eight strikeouts and two walks in the Astros' 6-4 victory.
Kirby earned his first victory since Aug. 5 with a 6-3 decision on Wednesday at Oakland. He gave up three runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and no walks in seven innings.
Kirby is 1-0 with a 2.53 ERA in two career starts against the Astros. He beat them 5-1 on July 6 in Houston with 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball.
--Field Level Media