The Mariners ended the first half of the 2013 season as one of the hottest teams in baseball, and they are carrying that momentum into the season's second half. Seattle is riding a season-high five-game win streak, and a victory on Sunday against the Astros would give the team consecutive series sweeps, its first two of the season.
The wins are the byproduct of a newly-potent offense, a result of hot-hitting rookies Brad Miller, Nick Franklin and Mike Zunino, and the steady slugging of veterans such as Raul Ibanez and Kendrys Morales. The lineup is hitting so well that even some key injuries haven't been able to slow Seattle's bats down.
"It's interesting because you still had your Millers and Franklins and Zuninos there in Spring Training, even though they didn't break with us early on," manager Eric Wedge said. "Those kind of things come into play a little bit. There are a couple guys that are hurt, not having a [Franklin] Gutierrez or [Michael] Morse or even a [Jesus] Montero that you were counting on early to be some of your hitters, that says a lot about these other guys and how they've stepped up."
Felix Hernandez makes his first start since his All-Star appearance on Tuesday. He's 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in two career starts against the Astros, including a win at Minute Maid Park on April 22 when he threw six shutout innings with five hits, one walk and nine strikeouts.
Hernandez leads the AL with a 2.53 ERA and 138 2/3 innings pitched and is third in strikeouts with 140.
Despite dropping their first two games following the All-Star break to the Mariners, the Astros are feeling good early in the season's second half. As the youngest team in the American League enters Sunday's game looking to avoid the sweep at home, the players feel that the struggles of their rocky first half are largely behind them.
"Definitely, we're feeling better," center fielder Brandon Barnes said. "Guys are feeling a lot more comfortable. We've had a full half of AL baseball and starting to see pitchers a second, third, fourth time around, so guys know what we're seeing at the plate."
Jordan Lyles will take the mound for Houston, and the righty is looking to recapture the stuff that made him one of baseball's best young arms in May and early June. Since then he has struggled, however, allowing 18 runs (15 earned) in his last four starts.
Mariners: Homer streak ends at 23 straight games
• While the Mariners beat the Astros, 4-2, on Saturday night despite being held to a single hit, they were unable to knock a home run in Minute Maid Park, ending the team's club-record streak of games with a home run at 23. The Mariners homered in every game since June 20, but were unable to catch the 2002 Rangers' record of 27 games.
Wedge said the mark is something to take pride in for a club that is tied for second in the Majors in most home runs this season.
"It's something that's never been done before with the Mariners," he said. "There have been so many great teams and players here, I think it says a lot about our current roster. It's a level of consistency, which is rare, to be driving the ball and hitting the ball out of the ballpark. And you have to put together good at-bats, a volume of good at-bats together to get your hits. It's not just hitting the ball hard and making it go a long way. There's a lot more that goes into it than that. I think it's one hell of an accomplishment."
The Mariners led all teams in home runs this spring in Cactus League play, breaking records along the way, but their leading home run hitter in spring was Morse with nine and he's been sidelined through the current streak with a strained hamstring. Gutierrez, tied for third in spring with five homers, is also on the DL.
Astros: Bedard doesn't allow a hit, but can't finish the game
• When the Mariners traded for Erik Bedard in 2008 they sent three players -- Adam Jones, George Sherrill, and Chris Tillman -- to Baltimore who would eventually play in an All-Star Game. Bedard never won more than six games in his three seasons with Seattle, but on Saturday night, he looked like the ace the Mariners thought was worth all those prospects five years ago.
Bedard struck out seven batters in the first four innings, not allowing a baserunner until Morales walked to lead off the fifth. The Mariners never got a hit off their former teammate, but drew five walks and forced the lefty to throw 109 pitches before being pulled from the game with one out in the seventh.
In his 6 1/3 innings, Bedard struck out 10, while allowing one earned run. Still, he was given the loss in his no-hit bid, allowing three runs across thanks to a pair of passed balls by catcher Jason Castro.
• The Mariners lost another streak on Saturday night, as third baseman Kyle Seager saw his 15-game hit streak come to an end.
• In his first and only previous start against the Mariners, 22-year-old Lyles became the youngest Astro to strike out 10 or more batters since Larry Dierker whiffed 14 on May 7, 1969.