HOUSTON -- The Astros beating the Mariners in landslide fashion behind an onslaught of runs has been commonplace over the past several seasons, so from that angle, what’s happened in the past two days is nothing new.
But this Mariners team is better than it’s been in recent years. After years of rebuilding, they appear to be contenders in the AL Wild Card race and could be considered on the bubble in their own division. The current series in Houston is arguably one of Seattle’s biggest -- if not the biggest -- of the season.
And yet, neither game has been close. Including the Astros’ 15-1 rout over the Mariners on Saturday at Minute Maid Park, Houston has outscored its opponent 27-4, outhit them 30-11 and outhomered them, 6-3.
The Astros scored runs in five of the first six innings of each game. In fact, they scored at least a run in all but six innings over the two games.
“Obviously, we have great hitters, from leadoff to the nine hitter,” said leadoff man Jose Altuve, who went 4-for-5 with three runs scored. “Everyone can do damage. They can walk, they can do amazing things. We can be very dangerous when we’re very focused about what we’re doing.”
The effort enabled the Astros to extend their lead over the A’s in the American League West division to 3 1/2 games after the A’s blew a lead to the Giants in the ninth and lost, 6-5.
The Astros-Mariners game wasn’t close, but it also wasn’t boring. The lineup changed at the last minute, after Chas McCormick was scratched because of a sore hand he suffered during batting practice. Taylor Jones found out he was moving from first base to left field about an hour before first pitch, meaning he didn’t get any outfield reps in during practice.
So, of course, the ball found him. In the first inning, Abraham Toro singled to left, and Kyle Seager attempted to score from second on the hit. Jones made a perfect throw to Martín Maldanado to cut down Seager at the plate, ending the inning.
The game hadn’t gotten out of hand yet, so that play loomed large.
“It was kind of in my mind what to do in certain situations,” Jones said. “So when the ball was hit, I had a good feeling that there's gonna be a play at the plate. So I just had to get to it as quick as possible and try to throw a strike to Maldy.”
“[Jones] can throw,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s just not real fleet of foot, but he has good hands and a good arm. That set the tone for the game. We were trying to take [Jake] Odorizzi as far as we could in the game. You can get energy from a defensive play, which we did.”
Jones also had a big day at the plate. In the midst of the Astros piling up runs, Jones quietly put himself in position to hit for the cycle in his final at-bat. He homered to lead off the fourth, doubled in the fifth and tripled in the sixth. All that was left was a single, but he popped up to first base to end the eighth.
“I’d be lying if I said [the cycle] wasn’t in the back of my mind,” Jones said. “I was just trying to put another AB together and find a good pitch to hit. I had a good pitch, but I missed it.”
The game was never close, but the first hints that it would be another blowout arrived in the third, when Yordan Alvarez, known mostly for his towering moonshots that regularly travel more than 400 feet, lobbed a homer that barely cleared the Crawford Boxes.
The 354-foot shot was Alvarez’s third-shortest of the season and landed in a spot that would only count as home run territory in one of the 30 ballparks -- the one he happened to hit it in. The three-run shot put the Astros ahead, 5-0.
“You can never tell with him, because the ball goes up and it just keeps on going,” Baker said. “He’s extremely strong and he has natural leverage. That ball had a slice on it and it sliced into the Crawford Boxes.”
The Astros scored as many runs Saturday as they did the entire four-game set in Kansas City, where they lost three games. Are they finally past the sour taste of that series?
“As a manager, you always want some more,” Baker said. “I'll take more, and more, and more and more. But that rough patch is behind us now. You know you're going to have those rough patches during the course of the season. You can't take the rough patches from one day to the next day or else, it’ll compound and build on you.”