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Drayer: AL West champion Astros had the Mariners’ number in 2017

With stars like Carlos Correa and George Springer, the Astros will be hard to beat for a while. (AP)

Sunday afternoon in Houston marked the 14th time the Mariners walked off the field with a loss in 19 games against the Astros this year. This time was a little different as the Astros converged on the mound in celebration after clinching the American League West title. Perhaps it was fitting they punched their ticket to the postseason with the knockout of the division team they have beaten the most this year. The Oakland A’s have gone 7-12 against Houston while the Angels are 6-13, and while Texas and Anaheim still have games remaining against the Astros, both have already surpassed the five-win mark.

“They’re a good ball club,” said manager Scott Servais about the Astros following the Mariners’ 7-1 loss. “They’ve had our number all year. They’ve beaten us. In a number of games that were very tight they got big hits and made the big plays late in games and we didn’t.”

The most damage came in the month of September with Houston sweeping consecutive series from Seattle. The Mariners were 0-6 against the Astros this month, 8-2 against the other teams they faced. Houston has been a problem, and it would not appear it is going to go away any time soon.

All but four players – Carlos Beltran, Cameron Maybin, Tyler Clippard and Luke Gregerson – on the 25-man roster are either signed, under club control or have a final year option for 2018. The Mariners will see plenty of Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers next year. They will also see the near-full return of baseball’s best offense, one that was much improved due to some key additions and big steps taken forward by others. The team that was all or nothing at the plate, finishing with the fourth-worst strikeout percentage in 2016, is on track to finish with the lowest strikeout percentage in baseball in 2017.

What part will the Astros and their dominance play in the Mariners offseason plans?

“We focus on where we are at, how we need to get better and continue to grow as an organization and make your decisions based on that,” said Servais. “They are at top of the division, they set the bar so to speak.”

A healthy rotation should help the Mariners moving forward. James Paxton gave up just one run to the Astros in three early-season starts; injury cost him two healthy starts against them. Felix Hernandez, who pitched well against the Astros in 2016, was able to make just two starts against them this year. A more experienced bullpen should help too as the relievers took the loss in four of the games against Houston this season. Then of course there is the offense, which Mike Blowers pointed to on the pregame show Sunday morning as being key to any success against the division rival.

“I look at it this way – whoever has the lead after six (innings) is probably going to win that ball game,” he said. “Both of them have very good bullpens, especially the back end of them. You have to find a way to get that lead and sometimes you have to go out and win 2-1, 3-2.”

The Astros are in the rear-view mirror for now as there are games still left to be played. Health and experience gained in 2017 should help the Mariners move forward in 2018, but the Astros have indeed set the bar in the AL West, and that bar is higher than it was a year ago.

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