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One week remains in the 2023 MLB regular season and Monday night the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners opened a crucial three-game series at T-Mobile Park. The Astros won the series opener (HOU 5, SEA 1) and opened a 1.5-game lead over Seattle for the third and final wild-card spot thanks to a vintage Justin Verlander performance.

Here are the updated American League wild-card standings. Every other AL team except the three division leaders (Baltimore Orioles, Minnesota TwinsTexas Rangers) has been eliminated from the postseason race:

  1. Tampa Bay Rays: 95-62 (+9 GB) (already clinched a postseason spot)
  2. Toronto Blue Jays: 87-69 (+1.5 GB)
  3. Houston Astros: 86-71
  4. Seattle Mariners: 84-72 (1.5 GB)

Verlander was simply masterful Monday. He held the Mariners to one run on three hits and a walk in eight innings, plus one batter. Seattle's best chance came in the third inning when they loaded the bases with one out, but Julio Rodríguez banged into a 6-4-3 double play. Verlander retired the next 16 Mariners before Josh Rojas ended his night with a leadoff double in the ninth inning.

Verlander went against the grain Monday. He threw 40 fastballs among his 96 pitches, or 42%. His season average is 51% fastballs. Verlander kept Seattle off balance all night with breaking balls and changeups. The Astros have won 15 of Verlander's 17 starts against the Mariners since he joined the team in 2017, including last year's ALDS Game 1 start.

Justin Verlander
HOU • SP • #35
Sept. 25 vs. Mariners
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Offensively, Houston received three straight two-out hits against Luis Castillo to take a 3-0 lead in the second inning. Mauricio Dubón doubled, Martín Maldonado singled, then Jose Altuve singled. Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker hit solo homers later in the game to stretch the lead to 5-0. Righty Bryan Abreu relieved Verlander and allowed the inherited runner to score in the ninth.

These two clubs are both coming off bad, bad weekends. The Astros were swept at home by the 102-loss Kansas City Royals while the Mariners were swept on the road by the AL West-leading Rangers. Even with Monday's win, Houston is 4-9 in their last 13 games. The Mariners have lost four straight games, seven of their last 10 games, and 11 of their last 16 games.

The Astros and Mariners will continue this three-game series with the middle game Tuesday night. Cristian Javier (9-4, 4.64 ERA) and George Kirby (11-10, 3.58 ERA) are the scheduled starters. That game is close to a must-win for Seattle. Another loss would put them 2.5 games out of a postseason spot with only five left to play.