M’s Fall to ‘Stros as Playoff Odds Freefall

After the first three games of the last ten to finish the season resulted in the Mariners being swept in Arlington, questions arose, and hope started to become lost. Going into the series against the Texas Rangers on Friday, Seattle was tied with the team they were set to play, and just a half game back of the division. Not only did Seattle get swept, but so did the Houston Astros… by the last-place Kansas City Royals. Houston losing three straight was the only reason why all hope was not lost, to be completely honest.

Fatigued pitching, questionable coaching decisions, un-timely hitting were three of the handful of reasons that s*** went south at Globe Life in Arlington over the weekend. Following the weekend, Texas took a three-game lead over Seattle (+2.5 on HOU) in the division. The M’s remained a half game behind Houston for the final WC spot, with Toronto 2.5 games up.

Following the three losses after sweeping Oakland prior, Seattle was 4-6 in their last ten, but 0-9 in their last nine games against team with an above .500 record. Was this September collapse just Seattle falling back down to earth and realizing their mediocre record mid-way through the season wasn’t all that crazy? Well, the three at home against Houston and then four against Texas to close out the season were as must-win as must-win gets.

Seattle got their main man, Luis Castillo, in the opener against Houston Monday. On the other side, it was future HOFer Justin Verlander.

Castillo looked to be up to the task, knowing how important these last stretch of games are. His fastball had some extra juice on it, touching triple digits in the first. But that was seemingly not the case, as Houston started to barrel La Piedra up in the second and the third. After Jose Abreu tripled, (should’ve been double, E8), Mauricio Dubon singled him home with two outs. Then it was Mariner-killer Martin Maldonado who doubled home Dubon, followed by Jose Altuve singling in the Houston catcher.

The following inning, it was the man who gives the city nightmares from last October. Yordan Alvarez, to start the top of the third, muscled a slider 110 MPH off the bat, 439 feet deep into the seats in right center field. A solidly-located off-speed pitch was no match for Alvarez’s skill and strength, as this made the game 4-0 Houston.

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners

"Air" Yordan Alvarez blasted his 30th home run of the season off of Luis Castillo Monday night.Photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

As Houston continued to pour on, Seattle was receiving the vintage Verlander treatment. He allowed just three hits all game. Seattle looked to have life in the bottom of the third when the bases were loaded for Julio Rodriguez and just one out, but J-Rod rolled over on a curveball, resulting in a 6-4-3 double play. Other than that opportunity with RISP, it was pretty much dormant on the base paths for the M’s on Monday.

Pitching lines on both sides looked something like this:

  • Luis Castillo: 6.0 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, BB, 8 K
  • Justin Verlander: 8.0 IP, 3 H, ER, 8 K

Houston took Monday’s contest handily, a final of 5-1. It was Seattle’s fourth straight loss, and probably one of the more depressing losses in the Dipoto/Servais era.

How would Seattle respond Tuesday? Well, if it was with a loss, you could pretty much call the season over in terms of playoff chances.

George Kirby got the nod against righty Christian Javier. Kirby had posted an above six ERA in his prior four starts, allowing five home runs. He needed to put on the same show he did when he started Seattle’s lone home playoff game in the division series last fall.

The first inning was shaky for the young right hander. George allowed back-to-back singles and then intentionally walked Kyle Tucker to load the bases with just one out. He shook out of harm’s way on almost 30 pitches, getting Jose Abreu and Yainer Diaz to ground into force outs to end the inning.

Bottom two, and Seattle claimed their first lead over an opponent in almost 40 consecutive innings. Mike Ford and Ty France reached on singles to right field. Josh Rojas then laced a line drive to deep right field, where Kyle Tucker made a wonderful leaping grab. Ford tagged to third and then an overthrow by Altuve allowed Ford to come around and score. Julio brought in Ty on a towering sacrifice fly to left.

Kirby, following his adventurous first inning, was shutdown city the remainder of his start. Seattle added two more in the fifth thanks to a broken-bat Cal Raleigh little dumper into shallow right field. Teoscar Hernandez followed with an RBI base hit to left.

A half inning later, Teo made a miraculous leaping-grab on a shot to deep right by Alex Bregman. His counterpart in center, Julio Rodriguez, seemed more hyped up than Teo as Hernandez went face-first into right to make a Julio-esque grab.

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners

Teoscar Hernandez's leaping, wall-banging catch was spectacular Tuesday night. Not normally known for his defense, this catch helped propel the team.Photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

One batter later after Kirby got Yordan to strikeout, and a teenager wearing a Jarred Kelenic City Connect jersey launched a foul ball over the third-base fan-protection net, that grazed Kirby on the mound. A weird situation, but luckily no injuries occurred, just a smile from George.

Speaking of George, his day was done after six shutout innings, allowing five hits while striking out four. Following Kirby was Justin Topa, who in the blink of an eye in the seventh, hit a batter and the allowed two singles to load the bases full of Astros with zero out. Matt Brash came into save Topa’s behind by allowing a sac fly, striking out Altuve on a wicked slider and getting Alex Bregman to ground out to Eugenio Suarez.

Ty France, in the bottom of the eighth, hit his first home run since early August, which ended up being an extremely valuable insurance run. Andres Munoz was in to finish off the Astros Tuesday, but with Munoz comes a feeling of uncertainty more often than not. He pegged Chas McCormick square on the back with 99, and then the bases were juiced after two singles. Munoz got Bregman to almost ground into a 5-3 double play, but Yordan was the final out on a line drive straight to J-Rod in center. Though Houston scored one in the final frame, this game had concluded with a final of 6-2 in favor of the home team.

Rubber match… and a massive one at that Wednesday night. Rookie Bryce Miller facing Framber Valdez as Seattle sat three games back of Texas in the West and just a half game back of WC3… which happens to be the Houston Astros.

The ballgame could not have started better for the M’s. Bryce Miller breezed through the top of the first and then on the first pitch from Framber Valdez, J.P. Crawford launched a 400-foot hooking homer just fair to give the lead and momentum to Seattle early.

Bryce Miller was great and T-Mobile Park was behind him up until leaving a four-seam fastball down the heart of the plate for Yordan Alvarez. 116 off the bat was what tied it up. Then two singles and a sweeper down the heart of the plate to Maurico Dubon. Dubon swatted his tenth of the season to left, and the game flipped on it’s head in a hurry as Houston was up 4-1 after four.

Seattle had a chance in the following half inning, but one can say it wasn’t Julio Rodriguez’s night at the plate. With the bases loaded he struck out, but his buddy Eugenio Suarez had his back. Geno singled home two with two outs to cut the deficit to just one.

The score remained 4-3 Houston for a few innings, thanks to solid work by Gabe Speier and Justin Topa out of the bullpen. Bryce Miller was done after just four innings, allowing four runs on two homers.

Former Mariner Kendall Graveman replaced Framber, followed by Hector Neris who brought along his antics. Neris struck out Rodriguez to end the sixth and proceeded to strut towards Julio on the first base side and have some choice words for him that involved a homophobic slur. This may have rooted back to when Rodriguez homered off of him last season after he threw behind Ty France in Houston. Anyways, the benches cleared and Neris was ejected, and if teammates of both sides didn’t hold some players back, it had a chance of becoming ugly.

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners

Hector Neris sparked a benches-clearing situation after striking out Julio Rodriguez Wednesday night. Here he is continuing his verbal altercation as he is being escorted by his fellow teammates and coaches to the dugout.Photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

Maybe this would put a fire in Seattle’s stride to comeback? Well Kyle Tucker, Jose Abreu and Michael Brantley had different plans. Those three each knocked in a run off of Matt Brash to extend the lead to 7-3.

When your star player strikes out four times, and your arguably-best arm in the ‘pen gives up three consecutive RBI base hits, that makes it pretty hard to win a ballgame. Houston added one more on a solo home run in the eighth, and this one fell through the Mariners’ hands in a hurry. The most important game of the season against the opponent you needed to beat to have a leg up in the wild card race went the opposite way Seattle hoped it would have. Houston won the game 8-3 and the series 2-1.

Houston, now 1.5 up on Seattle, travels to Phoenix to take on the Diamondbacks beginning Friday. Seattle again faces Texas, this time at home. The Mariners’ odds of making the playoffs are in a freefall, and they are running out of time. The M’s are 1-5 so far in the ten-game playoff-push stretch with four to go in the season beginning Thursday.

There’s still a chance to sneak into the wild card and even winning the division, but the M’s will need some help from their friends, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the New York Yankees, (who are playing Toronto).

The only announced starting pitching matchup for TEX @ SEA is Thursday night, where it will be Logan Gilbert (13-7, 3.75 ERA) up against lefty Jordan Montgomery (10-11, 3.25 ERA). Mariners’ fans will be curious to see who Scott Servais decides to put in the batting order against the lefty…

American League West Standings as of Thursday morning:

  • 1.Texas Rangers (89-69)
  • 2.Houston Astros (87-72), 2.5 GB
  • 3.Seattle Mariners (85-73), 4.0 GB

American League Wild Card Standings as of Thursday morning:

  • 1.Tampa Bay Rays (97-62), +10.0 WCGB
  • 2.Toronto Blue Jays (87-71), +0.5 WCGB
  • 3.Houston Astros (87-72), -- WCGB
  • Seattle Mariners (85-73), 1.5 WCGB

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