A home run binge has the Houston Astros maintaining their grasp on a playoff spot, and an AL West title still isn't out of the question.
Now 1 1-2 games out of the division lead with five remaining, the Astros look to continue their power surge Tuesday night against the slumping Seattle Mariners.
After winning the final two tests of a weekend series with first-place Texas, Houston (83-74) gained another game after backing Lance McCullers' six solid innings with solo homers from George Springer, Evan Gattis and Chris Carter in Monday's 3-2 victory over the Mariners. The result kept the Astros a half-game ahead of the Los Angeles Angels, who beat Oakland, for the second wild card.
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Houston, second to Toronto for the major league lead with 220 homers, has hit 20 while winning six of nine following five consecutive losses that relinquished its AL West lead. Carter, who snapped a 2-all tie in the seventh, has homered in three straight games and Gattis, Colby Rasmus and Carlos Correa have three during the stretch.
"I'm feeling pretty good right now," Carter told MLB's official website. "I'm getting pitches up in the zone."
McCullers struck out seven while allowing two runs for the Astros' sixth quality start in eight games, while Mike Fiers (2-1, 3.18 ERA) has six in eight starts since joining the club along with injured outfielder Carlos Gomez from Milwaukee July 30.
Fiers owns a 2.44 ERA and has held opposing hitters to a .177 average in those outings, though he's 0-1 with a 4.38 ERA over his last four. He did hold the Angels to three runs in 6 2-3 innings while not getting a decision in Wednesday's 6-5 loss.
The right-hander makes his first appearance against the Mariners.
Seattle (74-83) is already looking toward next year after naming Jerry Dipoto its general manager Monday.
Dipoto, the Angels' GM for 3 1/2 years before abruptly resigning July 1, will oversee a franchise with the sport's longest playoff drought at 14 years and that has lost six straight, one shy of a season high set May 30-June 5.
"During our conversations over the past few weeks, it became clear to me that he has a very solid understanding of our team and organization, both where we are and where we want to be. And he has a strategy to get us there," team president Kevin Mather said in a statement.
The Mariners are hitting .206 during the skid and managed just four hits while striking out 12 times Monday.
Seattle also has some pitching concerns with James Paxton scratched from Tuesday's assignment after tearing a fingernail Thursday at Kansas City, pushing Vidal Nuno (1-4, 4.10) up a day to pitch on short rest.
Nuno allowed five runs and nine hits over 4 1-3 innings in Friday's loss to the Angels, his second rough start since yielding one hit in seven innings in a 6-0 victory over Texas Sept. 9. He lasted just 3 1-3 innings while walking four and surrendering five runs in a loss to the Rangers on Sept. 19.
The left-hander sports a 1.45 ERA in three starts at Safeco Field this season but is 3-16 in 36 starts since the start of 2014, losing 12 of his last 13 decisions.
One of those defeats came Aug. 31 at Minute Maid Park, where Nuno gave up homers to Correa, Jed Lowrie and Hank Conger and permitted five runs in six innings in his only start against Houston.
Springer also homered in his lone at-bat against Nuno on June 21 in Seattle.