HOUSTON - Even though it's only June, the Seattle Mariners know playing well against the Houston Astros will be vital if they hope to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001.
They did that on Tuesday night, slugging their way to a lopsided win that left them two games ahead of the World Series champs in first place in the American League West.
Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino and Jean Segura all homered off Dallas Keuchel early to back up another solid start by James Paxton and give the Mariners the 7-1 victory.
"Every series against in-division teams is big but really every game is really important," Paxton said. "But especially these guys being at the top of the division with them right now, every game puts us ahead of them so they're important to win."
Their bats got going early on Tuesday night, with Seager hitting a three-run homer in Seattle's four-run first and Zunino padding the lead to 6-0 with his two-run shot in the second.
Paxton (5-1) gave up nine hits but just one run in 7 2/3 innings to extend his winning streak to five games. The Canadian lefty struck out six and walked one to lower his ERA to 2.95.
For the Astros the struggles continue for Keuchel (3-8), the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner. He tied a season-high by yielding seven hits and the seven runs were the most he's allowed this season. It was the second time he's given up three homers this season as he lost for the third time in four games.
He thinks he must be doing something to give away what he's about to throw.
"The first thing that pops up is either I'm tipping or they're getting something on me," he said. "We'll take a look at it and go from there. If you would've told me I was 3-8 at this point of the season, I probably would've laughed in your face (but) ... I'll be better."
Marwin Gonzalez was a home run shy of the cycle and drove in Houston's only run with a second-inning double on a night the Astros had trouble stringing together hits and dropped their third straight.
Dee Gordon started things in the first with a leadoff single before a single by Jean Segura. Mitch Haniger grounded into a forceout that left Segura out at second and scored Gordon to make it 1-0. Nelson Cruz singled before Seager's 10th homer this season made it 4-0.
The Mariners loved giving Paxton such a big early cushion to work with.
"It's definitely big," Seager said. "It's big to jump on anybody, any game but especially we know what their offense is capable of and it's really nice to give Paxton some wiggle room and let him take care of the rest."
Ben Gamel opened the second with a single and Zunino pushed the lead to 6-0 with his blast to left field.
Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles to start Houston's second and the Astros cut it to 6-1 when Correa scored on a double by Gonzalez.
Keuchel settled down after those tough two innings and had retired 10 straight when Segura connected off him with one out in the fifth to extend the lead to 7-1.
The Astros had a single in the sixth and seventh, but Paxton faced the minimum in both of those innings thanks to double plays.
Astros: C Brian McCann, on the disabled list with right knee soreness, continues to ramp up his activity level and manager A.J. Hinch said they'll likely decide what next for him on Wednesday. ... Hinch said after the game that OF Josh Reddick, who is recovering from an infection near his right knee, will come off the DL on Wednesday. Houston will option J.D. Davis to Triple-A to make room for Reddick on the roster.
ICHIRO PITCHES IN
Ichiro Suzuki tried out a new task on Tuesday as eases into his position as special assistant to the chairman. The 44-year-old, who started the season as a player before the team said he wouldn't play again this year and moved him into the front office position, threw early batting practice to the Mariners before the game.
The perfectionist, who piled up 3,089 hits in 18 years in the majors, took this job very seriously.
"He threw 200 balls a day in the batting cage during the game to get ready," manager Scott Servais said. "He was ready."
Servais he was happy with his work but that there was "room for improvement" and Ichiro agreed.
"I think I could have done better," Ichiro said in Japanese through a translator. "It was the first time throwing off the ramp. I hadn't done that before. And it was my first time throwing outside. It had all been inside, throwing in the cage."
Seattle's Wade LeBlanc (1-0, 2.60 ERA) opposes Houston's Lance McCullers (7-3, 3.89) when this two-game series wraps up on Wednesday night. LeBlanc has started and pitched in relief this season and has allowed just six earned runs combined in his six starts. McCullers picked up his seventh win in his last start by yielded four hits and two runs over six innings of a 4-2 win over Boston.
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