The math these days isn’t just cruel to the Mariners. It almost seems to be taunting them.
It isn’t just that Sunday’s 7-1 loss to Houston dropped the Mariners to 74-76 and, with only 12 games remaining, pushed them to 4 1/2 games behind Minnesota in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
Sure, that’s the only math that matters, but there’s a devil in the details.
We’ll get to that.
First, the big picture.
"We are running out of time," manager Scott Servais acknowledged. "These games are important. I assume we will bounce back…The Twins are headed over to play the Yankees. We need help, but we’ve got to help ourselves."
Getting out of Houston is a good first step. The Mariners were 5-14 this season against the Astros who, on Sunday, got homers from Derek Fisher, Marwin Gonzalez, George Springer and Carlos Correa.
Houston completed a second three-game sweep over the Mariners in a two-week span and, in the process, clinched the American League West Division pennant.
Several Mariners stood and watched the celebratory scrum near the mound after Ken Giles recorded the game’s final out. Houston is returning to postseason for the second time in three years after losing 324 games from 2011-13.
Justin Verlander (13-8) won his third straight start since joining Houston from Detroit in an Aug. 31 trade. He gave up one run and three hits over seven innings in his first start as an Astro at Minute Maid Park.
"We knew we were going to have to keep it close," Servais said, "because we probably weren’t going to get a lot off Verlander. Obviously, he was really good again today. Unfortunately, we’ve seen him too many times this year."
The Mariners didn’t have a hit against Verlander until Ben Gamel turned on a flat 1-1 slider for a 403-foot homer to right field with one out in the third inning.
Rookie right-hander Andrew Moore (1-4) nursed that lead into the fifth inning before the Astros struck.
Yuli Gurriel led off with single up the middle before Fisher crushed a teed-up fastball for a 422-foot homer over the batter’s eye beyond the center-field wall.
"A couple of mistakes come back to bite you when you’re facing a good lineup," Moore said. "They take advantage of bad pitches. That’s what Fisher did. It was just a badly executed pitch."
The Astros led 2-1 and weren’t done.
Springer followed with a single, but Moore retired the next two batters before Servais chose to bring in lefty reliever James Pazos in order to turn switch-hitter Marwin Gonzalez to the right side.
It was the right percentage move. Gonzalez had a .312/.382/.545 slash (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) against right-handed pitchers. Against lefties, he was just .235/.313/.426.
So much for math.
Gonzalez hit a no-doubt homer to left, and the Astros led 4-1.
Further note: Pazos had allowed just five homers in 51 2/3 previous innings — a rate of 0.9 per nine innings that ranked among the club leaders.
Yep, so much for math.
"It wasn’t the same Pazos we saw (earlier in the week) over in Texas," Servais said. "He didn’t have the same stuff today. Gonzalez had been right on Moore the last homestand at our place and again today.
"But he got a fastball from Pazos and took care of it."
A three-run lead was plenty for Verlander, but the Astros tacked on three runs against Emilio Pagan in the seventh inning on homers by Springer and Correa.
***Those homers haunt: The Mariners rewrote their record book by surrendering those four homers. Doing so pushed their season count to 220, which is a franchise record.
Their previous record was 216 in 1996. Last year’s club served up 213.
With 12 games remaining, the current club is on pace to finish with 238.
The MLB record is 258 last season by Cincinnati, which leads the majors again this season at 234.
***Eight times 10: Gamel’s homer in the third inning was his 10th of the season and made him the eighth Mariners player to reach double figures.
The others: Nelson Cruz (33), Kyle Seager (25), Mike Zunino (23), Robinson Cano (21), Danny Valencia (14), Mitch Haniger (13) and Jean Segura (11). The next closest is Taylor Motter with seven.
The Mariners had nine players reach 10 homers in 2016.
***Houston strong: The Astros finished with a 14-5 edge over the Mariners in the season series, including a pair of three-game sweeps in September. The Mariners are 69-62 against everyone else.
"They’re a good ballclub," Servais said. "They had our number all year. They beat us. In a number of games that were very tight, they got the big hits and made the big plays late in the game. We didn’t."
The season started with Houston winning three of four games against the Mariners at Minute Park. It seemed to set the tone for both clubs.
The Astros have a 37-20 advantage over the last three seasons.
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners