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Stecker’s 3 Things: Mariners can’t afford a misstep against Angels

Robinson Cano has been suspended 80 games for violating the joint drug policy. (AP)

The Mariners ran into a buzzsaw this week named the Houston Astros, as the American League’s best team quickly put Seattle’s three-game win streak coming off a sweep of the A’s to bed by sweeping the M’s themselves at Safeco Field. The Mariners will look to pick themselves back up with a three-game series against the surging Angels starting Friday. Here are three things to keep in mind for the weekend.

1. It’s not over, but it could be soon.

Yes, the Mariners were swept by the Astros and are two games under .500 with 22 games left. But due to the American League’s extraordinary parity this season, that is hardly a reason to give up on their postseason chances. Seattle is still just 3 1/2 games out of the second wild card currently held by the Twins, and they’ll start a three-game series Friday against the 72-68 Angels, who are one of the six teams they’re jockeying with for position in the race. That makes the series against Anaheim as important as it gets, though. If the Mariners are swept again, it may finally be appropriate to say they’re done for in 2017. But if they win all three, they’ll not only be alive but will have momentum on their side for another huge series, a four-game set against the Rangers, who just so happen to be another team they’re fighting for a playoff spot. And they might have another thing or two to help their cause when they arrive in Texas.

2. James Paxton and Felix Hernandez are close to returning.

You know the Mariners’ rotation, the one that features no pitchers that were supposed to be in the original starting five at the end of spring training now that Yovani Gallardo is back in the bullpen? Well, it could be getting some big help on the upcoming road trip. Both James Paxton, the team’s unquestioned ace this season when he’s been healthy, and Felix Hernandez, one of only two Mariners pitchers to ever win a Cy Young Award, may be back from their injuries for the series against the Rangers. With those two joining the recently acquired Mike Leake and two of either the surprisingly consistent Erasmo Ramirez, the somehow effective Andrew Albers or Ariel Miranda, a guy who kept the Astros hitless for six innings earlier this week, you can suddenly start to feel good about the Mariners handing off leads to their bullpen.

3. A good time to get hot.

Sometimes all it takes for a team to make a run is to get hot at the right time. For example, look at the 2007 Colorado Rockies, who won 14 of their last 15 regular season games to get a wild card berth and kept on winning right into the World Series. The Mariners probably don’t have that kind of win streak in them, but they don’t really need one, either. They just need to win enough to finish the season at maybe four, maybe five games over .500 to end the MLB’s longest playoff drought. And Seattle has some players who are catching fire right when you’d like them to. Kyle Seager homered in each game of the series against Houston, and he’s certainly overdue for a prolonged tear at the plate. Mitch Haniger has four multi-hit games in his last seven and is looking more like the player he was in April than at any other time since. Jean Segura shook off a dreadful end to August and is 10 for his last 25. And Robinson Cano has raised his average eight points since Seattle’s current homestand started on Sept. 1. Add in some production out of players like Nelson Cruz, Yonder Alonso, Mike Zunino and Danny Valencia over the home stretch and there’s reason to believe the Mariners have what it takes to stay in the race. But first thing is first – they have to take care of business against the Angels, or none of it will mean anything.