If there’s any good news for the Mariners after Saturday’s 8-6 loss at Houston — and you have look hard even with their late not-enough rally — it might be that they have only one more game this season against the Astros.
A ravaged rotation isn’t the only reason the Mariners now need a cavalry charge over the final two weeks to avoid extending their MLB-worst postseason drought to 16 seasons.
Their predicament also stems from their inability to handle the Astros.
Saturday’s loss shoved the Mariners back under .500 at 74-75 and, with just 13 games remaining, kept them 3 1/2 games behind Minnesota in the race for the American League’s final wild-card spot.
It also marked the Mariners’ fifth straight loss to the Astros in September while were trying to mount a postseason push. Overall, Houston holds a 13-5 edge in the season series.
Do the math.
The Mariners are eight games under .500 against the Astros, and seven games over .500 against everyone else. Their postseason hopes are teetering simply because of Houston.
Saturday unfolded in familiar fashion. The Mariners mustered little against Astros ace Dallas Keuchel, who improved to 13-4 by yielding just one run and four hits in six innings.
Once Keuchel exited, the Mariners, trailing 7-1, stormed back against the Houston relievers Francis Martes and Tony Sipp by scoring four runs in the eighth inning. They had the go-ahead run at the plate with no outs.
Then the Mariners flatlined against Joe Musgrove, who struck out pinch-hitters Mike Zunino and Ben Gamel before retiring Carlos Ruiz on a soft liner to short.
"We got something going in the eighth," manager Scott Servais said. "Our hole was just a little too big to get out of it."
Houston answered with one run later in the inning against Ryan Garton before Musgrove closed out the game for his first career save.
Bottom line: Another loss to the Astros, who clinched no worse than a tie for the American League West Division pennant.
Mariners right-hander Erasmo Ramirez (5-6) entered the day with a streak of six straight quality starts, but a bit of bad luck ended that run when the Astros struck for four two-out runs in the second inning.
Carlos Beltran led off with a single on a grounder that caromed off first base. Ramirez then walked Alex Bregman but had a chance to escape unharmed after retiring the next two batters.
But Derek Fisher painted the left-field foul line with an inside-out swing for an RBI double, and George Springer followed with a two-run single into center field before Josh Reddick drove an RBI double into the left-field gap for a 4-0 lead.
"I was behind a lot in counts, and pitches were hanging," Ramirez said. "But the season isn’t over yet. We still have more games to go and opportunities, so we have to be ready for the next one."
***Miranda sighting: Lefty Ariel Miranda worked a scoreless seventh inning in his first relief appearance of the season. He was pulled from the rotation after lasting just 1 2/3 innings Sept. 11 in a loss at Texas.
Rookie right-hander Andrew Moore (1-3 with a 5.36 ERA) will start Sunday in Miranda’s place when the Mariners conclude their weekend series at Houston. Veteran right-hander Justin Verlander (12-8, 3.58 ERA) will start for the Astros.
Miranda was 8-7 with a 4.90 ERA in 29 starts but won just two of his last 16 starts while compiling a 5.98 ERA in that span.
"He’s had (four days) off," Servais said. "He felt really good. He wanted to get back out there. I know Mel (Stottlemyre, the pitching coach) has worked with him. Mel said he’s got the life back in his arm.
"We’ll use him. We’ll keep him fresh, keep him going. If we want to start him, we can. Or we can bring him out of the bullpen."
***Coming up short: The Mariners had two big chances and let them both of them slip away.
They trailed 4-0 when they loaded the bases with one out against Keuchel in the fifth inning, but Taylor Motter hit a room-service hop back to the mound that Keuchel turned into an inning-ending double play.
"Keuchel was really good," Servais said. "The sinker, he got a lot of ground balls. You’re only going to get limited chances against him. We had one there and didn’t cash in."
The Mariners pulled themselves back into the game with a four-run eighth inning and had go-ahead run at the plate with no outs. Houston turned to Musgrove at that point, and the Mariners got no closer.
***Streak ends in a thud: Perhaps the law of averages caught up with Ramirez, who gave up six runs and eight hits in four-plus innings.
"His command and stuff really wasn't sharp in the (four-run) second inning," Servais said. "He hung in there but, obviously, it wasn’t the best outing he’s had with us.
"They put good at-bats on him. They used the whole field. They didn’t try to pull him."
Over his six previous outings, all quality starts, Ramirez held opponents to 10 runs and 25 hits in 36 2/3 innings for a 2.45 ERA in that span.
Despite his streak, Ramirez is now 1-3 overall in nine starts for the Mariners since arriving from Tampa Bay in a July 28 trade for reliever Steve Cishek.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners