M’s eliminated from AL West race after loss to Astros

Seattle’s overall playoff hopes continue to fade rapidly after a sloppy 7-0 loss in Houston.

The Astros’ George Springer (4) celebrates after a run-scoring single as Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon (9) watches during the third inning of a game Sept. 18, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Astros’ George Springer (4) celebrates after a run-scoring single as Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon (9) watches during the third inning of a game Sept. 18, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

By Ryan Divish / The Seattle Times

HOUSTON — It was really never theirs to win. Sure there was a time — June 2 to June 13 specifically — where the Seattle Mariners held first place in the American League West. That magical 11-game stretch allowed fans to daydream about such a possibility, which hasn’t happened much in the better part of a decade. But they were interlopers in a lofty spot that didn’t belong to them.

The AL West title — something that Seattle hasn’t won since 2001 — stopped being a reachable goal for this team by mid-July and on Tuesday night the inevitable became official in a 7-0 loss to the Astros. Seattle was mathematically eliminated from winning the American League West.

Elimination from the postseason is yet to be official, but it could happen sooner rather later if they have more performances like their 68th loss of the season. The Mariners certainly didn’t play like a postseason-caliber team, making mistakes in the field, failing with runners in scoring position and giving a better team extra opportunities.

Making his 30th start of the season, right-hander Mike Leake pitched 6 1/3 innings, giving up five runs on five hits with no walks, three strikeouts and minimal defensive help behind him, particularly in a third inning that saw the Astros score four runs.

After working through the first two innings without incident, Leake hit Brian McCann with a pitch to start the inning and his problems. Tony Kemp, the Astros No. 9 hitter, pulled a relatively hard ground ball down the first-base line. Robinson Cano, who got the start at first base, but has shown he’s not exactly comfortable or adept at the new position, botched what should have been an out. The lumbering McCann stopped at third base, though he could have made it home because Ben Gamel had trouble picking the ball up in right field. Meanwhile, Kemp was somehow given a double on a play that should have been an error on Cano.

George Springer drove in the first run of the game on a single past the diving Jean Segura. A misplay by Denard Span in left field allowed Springer to move up an extra base.

The Astros made it 2-0 when Kyle Seager mishandled a ground ball from Jose Altuve and couldn’t throw home to make a play on Kemp, instead settling for an out at first.

But the big damage came when Marwin Gonzalez launched a home run to deep left-center. Initially ruled an in-play double, replay review showed the ball was well above the yellow line that makes it a home run.

To his credit, Leake retired the next 11 hitters after the Gonzalez homer, but then gave up a run in the seventh to end his night.

He deserved better in the outing. But given what his teammates provided in run support, he could have been perfect and it wouldn’t have mattered.

Hard-throwing rookie Josh James and four relievers combined to hold the Mariners scoreless in a game for the sixth time this season.

Blessed with a fastball that sat in the upper 90s and touched triple digits, James pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing four hits with two walks and seven strikeouts.

The Astros tacked on two more runs in the eighth inning off reliever Nick Rumbelow. A poor effort on a tag by Cano, now playing second, on a stolen-base attempt by Altuve cost the Mariners an out. And then Tyler White’s high fly ball to left-center went uncaught as Span and Dee Gordon had a miscommunication on the warning track, watching the ball drop between them for a RBI double.

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