It appears the schedule-maker has given the Mariners a gift by having them open after the All-Star break with a three-game series against the lowly Houston Astros (“lowly” is now an official part of the their name). What better team for the Mariners to keep up their momentum — a 22-game homer streak, during which time they lead the majors in home runs (37), slugging percentage (.481), OPS (.822) and runs per game (5.5) — than the one with the worst record in baseball at 33-61?
But we’ve seen this year that those anticipated wins against the Astros don’t just happen by magic. Cleaning up in 19 games against the Astros, newly arrived in their league, and in their division, was supposed to be the Mariners’ ticket to .500. But instead, the Mariners find themselves nine games under at the break, and one game under (4-5) against the Astros.
The A’s, by contrast, are 9-0 against the Astros. The Rangers are 7-2. The Tigers are 6-1. The Red Sox are 4-0. The Rays are 5-2. In other words, the contending teams have done what they’ve supposed to, fattening up on the Astros, who have the worst ERA in the majors (4.83) and are tied for 28th in runs. Seems like a team ripe for the picking, but Seattle and the Angels (6-7 against Houston) have found otherwise. And both teams are far back in the standings. No doubt those struggles against the Astros are more the symptom of deeper problems than the cause of their struggles, but either way it’s a good test of their progress.
Who can forget some of the Mariners’ first-half lowlights against the Astros? Like a 16-9 whipping at Safeco Field on April 9, in which the Astros pounded out 22 hits and led 13-0 after four? Or the 8-3 drubbing on 16 hits the next night? Or losing two out of three in Houston later in the month, the final loss –in which they trailed 10-1 after five and lost 10-3 — so galling that a red-faced Eric Wedge held a closed-door team meeting afterward? Or the 6-1 defeat on June 12 in Seattle in which they were going for a sweep and carved out a 1-0 lead behind a Jeremy Bonderman gem, only to have Tom Wilhelmsen self-destruct in the ninth as Houston scored six.
The Mariners, however, still have 10 games left against Houston, so there’s time to set this right. And considering how well they were playing leading up to the break, including a three-game sweep of the Angels, it would behoove them to start now.