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Astros dig in for big series vs. Mariners

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- They'll enter Minute Maid Park and the final week of the regular season with their backs against the wall and in dire need of some wins. The Astros and Mariners open a three-game series at Minute Maid Park on Monday that could go a long way in deciding the American League Wild Card race.

The Astros, who were stunned at home in losing three of four to the Angels, are three games behind the Orioles for the second Wild Card spot in the AL, with the Mariners only 2 1/2 games behind Baltimore. The Tigers are 1 1/2 games out.

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HOUSTON -- They'll enter Minute Maid Park and the final week of the regular season with their backs against the wall and in dire need of some wins. The Astros and Mariners open a three-game series at Minute Maid Park on Monday that could go a long way in deciding the American League Wild Card race.

The Astros, who were stunned at home in losing three of four to the Angels, are three games behind the Orioles for the second Wild Card spot in the AL, with the Mariners only 2 1/2 games behind Baltimore. The Tigers are 1 1/2 games out.

Full Game Coverage

"It is truly a win-every-game mentality for us," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "The road ahead is going to be played out over six games. We can't control the five that are in front of us. We control the one that we're playing [Monday], so our chances? I don't know what's going to happen with Detroit, Baltimore, Toronto or Seattle.

"I know Seattle is the one team we can control what they do for the next three days. We'll play it out and see where it goes, but we need as many wins as we can get."

The Astros, who are 10-6 against the Mariners this year, will send right-hander Collin McHugh to the mound in Monday's 7:10 p.m. CT series opener. He's dominated the Mariners in his career, going 9-3 with a 3.96 ERA, including 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA in four starts this year. McHugh is 5-0 with a 4.25 ERA in his last seven starts overall, all of which have been Astros' wins. Mike Fiers (11-8, 4.40 ERA) and Doug Fister (12-12, 4.42 ERA) will also start for Houston.

The Mariners will roll out arguably their best three starters in the series with veterans beginning with Hisashi Iwakuma (16-12, 4.04 ERA) on Monday, Felix Hernandez (11-6, 3.61 ERA) on Tuesday and hard-throwing lefty James Paxton (5-7, 3.72 ERA) Wednesday, though none has as much of a history of success against the Astros.

"We haven't matched up that great against them," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "They're athletic, their bullpen has been pretty good. There's been a lot of things there. But we need to play well. Whatever has happened in the past, really you can't do anything about. We just need to look at these next three games and win the series. We need help and we know that. There's a lot of other games going on here. But we have to win the series. Hopefully go there and win the first game and go from there."

Nelson Cruz hit four home runs in three-game series in Target Field, including a 493-foot bomb on Saturday, but was taken out of today's game with a sore left wrist after hitting his second homer of the day. But he expects to play Monday in what could be a make-or-break series.

"It's huge," Cruz said. "We took care today of what we're supposed to do. We just have to battle against Houston. They've been tough against us. We just have to go be us and play our game."

All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve admitted the Astros need to win out to have a shot at the second Wild Card.

"With six games left, a lot of things can happen," he said. "We've got a good team and we're going to stay positive and try to go out there and beat the Mariners and then go to L.A. and try to win as many games as possible. It's that simple."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Houston Astros