SEATTLE — The red-hot Seattle Mariners are making a final push in the American League wild-card race as they begin a three-game series with the undermanned Houston Astros on Friday night.
Six of Seattle's final 16 games come against Houston (76-70), which is two games behind the Mariners (78-68). Seattle is tied with Detroit, two games behind Toronto for the final wild-card spot, with the New York Yankees three back.
The Astros will likely be without MVP candidate Jose Altuve, who left Wednesday's 8-4 victory over Texas with an oblique injury. Also, rookie Alex Bregman (hamstring) is expected to be out of Friday's lineup.
“They're getting looked at, getting all the tests (from) doctors,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “They're going to have a full evaluation before we're going to know anything, but I'm not optimistic about Friday for either of them.”
Altuve leads the AL in batting average (.341) and hits (196) while his 24 home runs and 94 RBIs are career highs. Bregman is hitting .260 with eight homers and 32 RBIs in 47 games.
Seattle is coming off back-to-back sweeps of AL West doormats Oakland and Los Angeles after it appeared out of the race when it hit the road nine days ago.
“Outstanding trip,” manager Scott Servais told reporters Wednesday night. “Guys are really confident. The energy is up. It should be a really fun homestand coming up.”
The streak coincides with a return to form by the Mariners' starting rotation, which had fallen on hard times before getting well against some of the league's worst offenses. Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker put together solid back-to-back starts heading into Thursday's off day, and Seattle looks to ace Felix Hernandez to continue that trend Friday night.
Hernandez (11-5) recovered from back-to-back tough outings to throw six scoreless innings in Oakland his last time out.
Houston counters with Mariner-killer Collin McHugh, who is 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three starts against Seattle this season. McHugh (10-10) is one of the few Astros starters who have stayed healthy during an injury-plagued month. Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers have succumbed to injuries, putting pressure on pitchers such as McHugh to step up and keep Houston in the playoff race.
Wednesday starter Joe Musgrove did his part by throwing 6 1/3 solid innings as the Astros etched out an 8-4 victory over Texas to close out that series.
“I want to see them again,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said of the Rangers. “If we see them again, it means we're meeting in October, so bring it. I hope we're there.”
Before the Astros can think about a second consecutive postseason appearance, they'll have to hurdle four teams. Unless they can take at least two of three this weekend, that's probably not going to happen.
“Every game matters right now,” Astros infielder Marwin Gonzalez told reporters after Wednesday's victory. “We're going to try to win as much as we can, and that's it.”