Mariners, Astros battle to stay alive

HOUSTON — Both the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners spent the afternoon on Sunday discussing math, doing so in the context of the American League wild card and their respective odds of qualifying for the playoffs with a week left in the regular season.

With Toronto (86-69), Baltimore (85-71) and Seattle (82-73) all ahead of them in the standings and all winning on Sunday, the Astros (82-74) merely kept pace by snapping their three-game skid with a 4-1 victory over the Angels. Houston entered that four-game series just one game out of the second AL wild card slot but picked an inopportune time to stub its collective toes.

In the finale against the Angels the Astros received critical contributions from a trio of rookies. Right-hander Joe Musgrove worked seven strong innings while left fielder Tony Kemp and designated hitter Tyler White clubbed solo home runs. For Kemp it was the first of his career; White went deep for the first time since May 17.

The Astros have relied on rookies to varying extents this season, with 13 different players making their big league debuts. Over their final six games they will need more of the same if they are to overcome the daunting math and make the playoffs.

“These guys are getting their first taste of important baseball in September and hopefully October,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. “A lot of our other guys who were around last year know what playoff baseball is like. We've been playing this type of wild card atmosphere for about a month now so these guys, as they get their taste and they go up and know they're going to get a good pitch, feel good about themselves when they contribute.”

Right-hander Collin McHugh (12-10, 4.61 ERA) will start the series opener for the Astros. McHugh has excelled against the Mariners throughout his career, posting a 9-3 record and 3.96 ERA over 12 career appearances (seven starts). He has been particularly effective this season with a 4-0 record and 1.08 ERA over four starts.

The Mariners will counter with right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma (16-12, 4.04 ERA), who is 5-6 with a 3.87 ERA over 13 career starts against the Astros. Iwakuma has faced the Astros twice this season, losing his first two starts before twirling seven shutout innings in a 1-0 win on July 16 to improve to 1-2 with a 4.24 ERA in 2016.

While the Mariners have a half-game lead over Houston and the benefit of a seventh game left of the schedule to squeeze into the playoffs, the odds aren't great. But Seattle last qualified for the postseason in 2001, and while the aim is to keep playing deep into October, contesting meaningful games late is an accomplishment.

“This is what we talked about way back in February: Can we play some meaningful games right down the stretch, right to the end, and find out a lot about our team?” Mariners manager Scott Servais told MLB.com. “Our players are finding out a lot about themselves. Some of these guys have never been through this before. So it's exciting. They need to enjoy it and have fun. I've said that from Day 1.”