MLB

Astros-Mariners Preview

For all the struggles the Houston Astros had in their first two seasons in the AL, Seattle often proved to be an oasis in a league providing them little sustenance.

Now leading the West 70 games into their third year, they're in danger Sunday of suffering their first sweep at Safeco Field.

After Saturday's 6-3 win, the Mariners (32-37) have taken the first two of the three-game set to secure their second series win over Houston (40-30) in nine played at Safeco.

Seattle's had the benefit of not facing Jose Altuve, and that could change Sunday. The second baseman has only played one full game in the last nine because of a hamstring injury, though he's said to be nearing a return.

"I'm really anxious but like I said we still have a lot of games left," Altuve told MLB's official website. "To try to hurry for one game you can miss more games. I'm ready for whenever they decide to put me back there."

The Mariners seem to be struggling more offensively, scoring 2.8 runs per game and batting .196 over a 5-5 span, though they're hoping the hiring of two-time AL batting champion Edgar Martinez as hitting coach can help.

Half of Saturday's runs came on solo homers by Seth Smith, Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo. It was Trumbo's first while batting .192 in 14 games in Seattle, and Cruz went deep for the first time in 21 games after doing so 18 times through 46.

Houston, 16-11 all-time in Seattle, got solo shots from Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena. The latter has left the yard seven times in 17 games this month despite a .175 average.

Seattle turns to J.A. Happ, who's hoping for his first win since May 9. Happ (3-3, 3.79 ERA) is 0-2 with a 4.33 ERA in his last seven starts with the losses coming in the last two. He gave up three runs and seven hits in Tuesday's 6-2 loss in San Francisco.

The left-hander hasn't been issuing an abundance of walks with 2.20 per nine innings, which would mark a career low.

Rather than tweaking anything, he might be wise to stick with what he's doing and wait out a .351 batting average of balls in play over the winless stretch that figures to come down. Additionally, his 2.29 run-support average in that stretch figures to rise.

He had a similar mindset of poor luck after allowing a two-run homer to Matt Duffy.

"Duffy hit the pitch I wanted to throw. I don't know how he hit that ball. He put a heck of a swing on it," Happ said. "... I don't know. Not many people hit that ball where it was. You just kind of shake your head."

Happ is 3-0 with a 3.48 ERA in five career starts against the Astros, but he's posted a 5.40 ERA in two this season. Chris Carter is 4 for 10 with two homers off him, but Altuve is 1 for 9 and Valbuena 0 for 6.

His best work has come at home with a 2-1 record and 1.88 ERA in six starts, and he's up against a potentially vulnerable rookie in Vincent Velasquez (0-0, 4.66).

The beginning of Velasquez's major league career was a one-start honeymoon in which he limited the Chicago White Sox to three hits in five scoreless innings of a 4-1 road loss on June 10. The right-hander issued four walks before things got ugly in his second start when he allowed five runs and seven hits with two walks in 4 2-3 innings of Tuesday's 8-5 home win over Colorado.

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