SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners have to face the Houston Astros 15 more times this season.
You can sigh now.
Fortunately for the Mariners, the next series is just two games and it’s not until June 5.
Because the Astros showed every bit of why many consider them the most talented team in baseball. This four-game series, with the Astros’ winning three and the Mariners sneaking away with one win, didn’t necessarily expose the Mariners as it did highlight Houston.
Charlie Morton, the winning pitcher in the Astros’ Game 7 win over the Dodgers in the World Series last year, flashed the latest in Houston’s line of dominant starting pitching, throwing seven shutout innings in a 9-2 win at Safeco Field.
“They’re the world champs,” Mariners shortstop Jean Segura said, “and they’re the world champs for a reason.”
The Mariners (9-8) even turned what was then a critical triple-play in the fourth inning — just the 12th triple play in franchise history and first since 2015, thanks to Evan Gattis forgetting how many outs there were and drifting off of first base.
It shouldn’t have been, but that was merely a footnote to the Astros’ bludgeoning.
Maybe the other Texas team won’t be as daunting. The Mariners travel to Arlington, Texas, on Friday for a three-game series against the Rangers.
Morton is supposed to be the Astros’ No. 5 starter, yet in 25 innings pitched (four starts) he’s allowed two runs (0.72 ERA).
The Astros have gone seven consecutive games barely using their bullpen, which is considered one of their few weaknesses. Houston’s starting pitchers have gone seven consecutive starts pitching at least six innings and allowing two earned runs or fewer.
And the Mariners didn’t even have to face Justin Verlander, who was last week’s American League player of the week.
“I mean, no doubt about it — that’s the best rotation in baseball,” Segura said. “(I’m) not going to lie. As a player, as a human, you realize how good they are. I don’t think there’s any staff in the big leagues that has what they have.”
In four games against Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., Gerrit Cole and Morton, the Mariners’ offense scored four runs off them combined.
And the Mariners’ offense had been rolling. They entered the series on Tuesday batting .260 as team with 16 home runs in 13 games, averaging 4.8 runs per game.
Against the Astros? They hit .171 (21-for-123) with two home runs and averaged 1.5 runs.
“We got shut down, and you have to give Houston credit,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “Their pitching is as advertised.
“But it’s a long season. These things come in cycles — hot and cold and everything in between. I still like our club. We just didn’t get much going offensively at all, and it’s tough to stay in games that way. You have to score some runs.”
And the stat line might not be as impressive (the Astros’ offense, though strike-out prone, will do that). But the Mariners also got four of their best starts from their starters — James Paxton (in a 2-1 win on Tuesday), Ariel Miranda (in a 4-1 loss Wednesday), Mike Leake (in a 7-1 loss on Thursday) and Gonzales on Thursday.
Gonzales, the former Gonzaga University standout, needed a bounce-back start. He started his afternoon with strikeouts of George Springer, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in the first inning. Gonzales fanned seven of the first 10 batters he faced and finished with eight strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings, having allowed no earned runs.
It was 0-0 until a few defensive miscues allowed the Astros to score four runs in the fifth inning. One was earned.
Very similar to Wednesday’s game, when the game was tied 1-1 into the seventh inning before the Astros exploded for six runs.
“Just all types of stuff didn’t go our way this series,” Mariners center fielder Dee Gordon said.
And Servais stressed afterward that the Mariners have to do a better job going forward of making their own luck, especially against teams as talented as Houston.
“We got a little unlucky,” Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said. “Same with Leake (Wednesday). He threw the ball really well, a lot better than the stat line would say. Our pitchers really pitched with them this series, but we didn’t hold up our end on the offensive side.”
But Houston’s lineup is explosive enough to do that to teams. They can get hot in a hurry. Jose Altuve, the reigning American League most valuable player, had been uncharacteristically quiet (at least by his standards) the first three game of the series and then he went 3-for-4 on Thursday with a pair of doubles and four RBI, including a bases-clearing shot over Mitch Haniger’s head in right field with the bases loaded.
The Mariners do have reinforcements on the way. Catcher Mike Zunino is expected to be activated off the disabled list for Friday’s 5:05 p.m. game at Texas with Felix Hernandez on the mound. Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez appears lined up to start Sunday’s game, and first baseman Ryon Healy will begin a rehab assignment with Double-A Arkansas on Friday, to go with the Mariners having activated outfielder Ben Gamel on Wednesday.
But those aren’t the cure-alls.
“We’ve been playing very good ball,” Servais said. “We just got shut down for a couple of days. It’s a long season, and that is a very good team over there. We know that. We’re going to play them a lot.
“I think we need to take the experience, what we learned, how they attacked us and how they pitched us, and hopefully we’ll be better off for it the next time we see them. We’re going to play them a lot, so it’s not the last time we’ll see the Astros, nor the last time they will see us.”