Astros-Mariners preview

SEATTLE — By winning the first two games of a three-game series, the Houston Astros successfully pulled even with the Seattle Mariners in the American League wild-card standings. The next step is to make a push for the Baltimore Orioles and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Houston's 2-1 win over Seattle on Saturday night not only moved the Astros (78-70) up in the wild-card standings, it moved them within three games of the co-leaders in the race. Baltimore and Toronto, the teams that currently hold the top spots in the two-berth wild-card race, lost Saturday to give Houston renewed hope.

“Every series is huge now,” Astros designated hitter Tyler White said. “We go out every day, try to take care of the task at hand and we'll see where we stand at the end.”

The Mariners (78-70) have managed to score just one run in the first two games of the series and, despite being in an identical position as the Astros, are feeling like the air is seeping out of their balloon. Seattle carried an eight-game winning streak into the Houston series, but enters Sunday's series finale without that momentum.

“We're going to turn it around here, start getting some hits and start winning games again,” said Saturday starter James Paxton, who opened the game with five perfect innings before suffering the tough-luck loss after allowing two runs in the sixth.

Mariners manager Scott Servais said the biggest problem this series has been his team's inability to work the count. Seattle has been unable to “hold the line of scrimmage,” as he said, and has suffered for its over-aggressiveness at the plate.

“The last couple of nights we've been a little anxious at the plate and they've feasted on it,” Servais said Saturday night.

Seattle might need another strong start from rookie Ariel Miranda on Sunday. Miranda (4-1, 4.10 ERA) is beginning to validate Seattle's decision to give up on the two Wades. The Mariners traded veteran Wade Miley for Miranda at the trade deadline, then they DFA's veteran Wade LeBlanc in order to keep Miranda in the rotation a few weeks ago.

By winning each of his past three starts, including six shutout innings his last time out, Miranda has rewarded the team's faith.

Houston will counter with veteran Doug Fister, an ex-Mariner who has struggled in recent starts. Fister (12-11, 4.17 ERA) has gone 0-3 with a 9.35 ERA in his past four starts, and the Astros are going to need him down the stretch as their hobbled rotation tries to keep Houston in the postseason race.

“We've got a great starting rotation,” fellow starter Mike Fiers said after picking up the win with six scoreless innings. “Maybe things haven't gone the way we want it to, but we're still trying to go out and do our job.”

The Astros and Mariners will play three more games in Houston later this month, but neither team can wait that long to get hot. The Astros will be looking to carry the momentum of two wins into Sunday, and Seattle is getting desperate for a win.