Astros look to improve with Mariners up next (Jul 17, 2017)

BY AP • July 17, 2017

HOUSTON -- For all their offensive might, the Houston Astros remain a team capable of improvement in terms of manufacturing runs.

The Astros (62-30) showcased a glimpse of that underutilized aspect of their offense in their series finale with the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, capitalizing on some daring baserunning to score two insurance runs in the seventh inning of their 5-3 victory at Minute Maid Park.

Houston will look to keep all aspects of its offense rolling when it opens a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners (46-47) on Monday night at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros entered Sunday ranked 10th in the majors with 53 stolen bases but just 27th in baserunning runs added at minus-12. However, in the seventh, both Jake Marisnick and Jose Altuve turned steals and aggressive pursuits of extra bases into runs to help key yet another series victory.

The Astros lead the majors in home runs (151) and runs scored (544). In the search for ways to add offensive versatility down the stretch, efficiency on the basepaths in an obvious goal.

"We're really athletic," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "Everybody immediately looks at our offense or at the hitting and the power and the lack of strikeouts -- we can create some runs for ourselves. We've got better baserunners maybe than basestealers all the time, not counting Jake and Jose. Those guys can steal bases when everybody knows it's coming.

"But we can be an effective baserunning team, and I think that can be a difference-maker as these games get close or you need to win games where you're not (hitting home runs)."

Attempting to slow the Houston offense on Monday will be Mariners, who completed a three-game road series sweep of the Chicago White Sox with a 7-6, 10-inning win on Sunday.

Seattle has won five of its past six games.

Mariners left-hander Ariel Miranda (7-4, 4.15 ERA) gets the start in the series opener. He is 1-2 with a 4.32 ERA over four career starts against the Astros. Three of those outings came this year, and he allowed 10 earned runs over 18 innings, going 0-2 with a 5.00 ERA.

The Mariners remain a distant 16 1/2 games behind the front-running Astros in the American League West. However, their recent uptick in wins has kept them in the thick of the race for one of the two AL wild cards.

"We're playing good ball," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "Our guys understand we're kind of up against it. We need to kind of turn it on here heading on this road trip. We stubbed our toe a little bit before the break, but it's nice to see guys come back refreshed, a lot of energy in the clubhouse and our dugout, and it's playing out on the field."

Right-hander Lance McCullers (7-2, 3.05 ERA) draws the start for the Astros on Monday.

McCullers is 5-2 with a 2.09 ERA over seven career starts against Seattle, including a pair of victories this season in which he recorded 15 strikeouts and allowed two runs in 11 innings.

After a stretch of four wins in four starts from May 12-28, McCullers has just one victory in his past five outings, posting a 4.50 ERA in that stretch.