Entering this weekend’s three-game series against Houston, the Seattle Mariners led the majors in nearly every offensive category.
After being swept by their American League West rivals, the Mariners still lead in several, but the Astros’ sturdy pitching staff certainly put a dent in those numbers.
The Mariners, who were averaging nearly eight runs per game entering the series, never showed that type of offense in three consecutive losses.
On Sunday, Seattle dropped the series finale, 3-2, at T-Mobile Park. The Mariners managed just four hits, and struck out a season-high 15 times.
“It happens when you take deep counts,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “We’re OK with that. I’ve said from the beginning of spring training, we’re fine with that. We’ll keep grinding away.
“Not every club every weekend is going to make those pitches. They did this weekend. That’s why they beat us.”
The Astros (11-5) have won nine consecutive games, and are rapidly moving closer to the Mariners (13-5) — who still have the most wins in baseball, but no longer the best record — in the AL West standings.
“We’re playing hard, we’re going to continue to get better, we just ran up against really good pitching this weekend,” Servais said.
Seattle took a lead in the first inning, when outfielder Mitch Haniger hit the third leadoff homer of his career into the opposing bullpen. It was Haniger’s fifth home run of the season, and the 39th for Seattle.
The Mariners have hit at least one long ball in each of their first 18 games, extending their major league record for consecutive games with a home run to start a season.
Haniger hit a leadoff double to left in the third, and Domingo Santana — who leads the majors with 23 RBIs — knocked a double to nearly the same location to push Seattle’s lead to 2-0.
But, Houston starter Gerrit Cole (1-2, 3.24 ERA) otherwise controlled the Mariners’ usually potent offense, allowing the two earned runs on four hits and walking none in six innings of work to earn the win.
Cole’s 11 strikeouts matched the effort from Astros ace Justin Verlander in a similar low-scoring win over the Mariners a day earlier.
“Those two — Cole and Verlander — are two of the best right-handed pitchers in the game,” Haniger said. “It’s always a battle.”
The Mariners were retired in order by Houston’s bullpen in each of the final three innings, including striking out twice more in the ninth inning. Across the three-game series, Seattle’s batters were sent down on strikes 39 times.
“They threw the ball really well against us all weekend,” Servais said. “We were on them a little bit on Friday night, but the last couple of games have been good ball games. They’ve been tight. … You’ve got to credit their pitching. They shut us down.”
And, Seattle’s pitching couldn’t quite do enough to shut down Houston’s bats.
Sunday, it was Astros designated hitter Aledmys Diaz who delivered the game-winning home run, turning on a first-pitch sinker by Mariners rookie reliever Brandon Brennan (1-1, 0.73 ERA) in the seventh inning that just cleared the wall in left field.
It was the first run Brennan, who was making his ninth relief appearance, had allowed in his MLB career.
“He ambushed a fastball. It’s as simple as that,” Brennan said. “I threw a first-pitch fastball, I tried to put it on the outside, it kind of leaked back over the middle, down, found the barrel. And it was a little bit of a wall-scraper, but he hit the ball.”
Brennan, a Rule 5 Draft pickup by the Mariners during the offseason, pitched brilliantly before Diaz tagged him with the home run. He had held opponents scoreless through his first 11 1/3 innings this season.
Sunday, Brennan relieved Mariners ace Marco Gonzales (4-0, 3.16) with runners at the corners and one out in the sixth, and struck out Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel in back-to-back at-bats to preserve a 2-2 tie.
“He’s having a great start to the season,” Servais said. “Can’t ask any more out of him so far. ... Really excited about what he brings to us and moving forward with him.”
Gonzales cruised through the Astros lineup twice, allowing just one hit and one walk in the first five innings, before running into trouble in the sixth.
“I didn’t think he was quite as sharp today as we’d seen in previous outings,” Servais said of Gonzales. “He had them off-balance, got some pop ups and was rolling along pretty good. Obviously going through that part of the lineup in the sixth when he went out, we knew that was going to be a big point in the game.”
Tony Kemp hit a leadoff single, and Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman each added base hits to load the bases with one out. Michael Brantley then hit Houston’s fourth single of the inning, driving in a pair of runs to tie the game.
“I wish I could have that curveball back, or at least place it a little better,” Gonzales said. “A little bit down in the zone, that’s a 4-6-3 double play, what we’re trying to do. That’s baseball.”
Gonzales, who had thrown just 73 pitches, was pulled following Brantley’s RBI single, and Brennan struck out the next two batters to retire the side. Gonzales left without a decision for the first time this season after picking up wins in each of his first four starts.
The Mariners open a three-game series against Cleveland at 7:10 p.m. Monday before hitting the road again later in the week.
Mariners left-hander Yusei Kikuchi (0-0, 4.15) will make his fifth start of the season in the series opener, and is still searching for his first win. Right-hander Trevor Bauer (1-1, 2.29) will take the hill for Houston.
The game will be telecast on Root Sports Northwest, and broadcast on 710-ESPN radio.