SEATTLE -- Martin Maldonado hit a three-run home run, Framber Valdez struck out eight to set career highs for wins and strikeouts, and the Houston Astros beat the Seattle Mariners 6-1 on Tuesday night to close on their fourth straight playoff berth.
Houston (28-27) is second in the AL West, comfortably ahead of the fourth-place Mariners (24-31) and the third-place Los Angeles Angels (25-31). The defending AL champions have five games left.
Houston has won three of four, scoring more than four runs for just the second time in its last 12 games.
"It's fun when you get some hits," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "It's not fun when you don't get any hits."
Maldonado's sixth homer, off reliever Brandon Brennan, highlighted a five-run sixth inning that included Michael Brantley's tiebreaking leadoff home run against Casey Sadler (1-2). Sadler threw a pair of wild pitches, including one that scored a run, and walked two.
"Sadler has been so sharp here recently," Seattle manager Scott Servais said. "It just wasn't quite on his game tonight."
Valdez (5-3), a 26-year-old left-hander in his third big league season, allowed one run and five hits in seven innings, and he has 76 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings this season. He gave up a leadoff single to J.P. Crawford and an RBI double to Kyle Seager in the first, then settled and scattered three hits over his final six innings.
Valdez said he felt like he earned a start if the team makes the playoffs and credited his sports psychologist with sharpening the mental part of his game.
Maldonado, his catcher, said you can see the positive impact.
"I would say the ability to control his emotions" is the most improved part of his game, Maldonado said. "He's always had good stuff, last year, even the year before. He's still the same guy. It seems like he cares more now. It seems like he's developing better. He's not allowing stuff to get into his head."
Kyle Tucker went 4 for 5 for the Astros with a run and an RBI. He has hit safely in eight straight games.
Maldonado said it felt like the team was shaking off its offensive doldrums.
"We know how to win once the playoffs start," he said.
Seager raised his career total to 702 RBI and joined Edgar Martinez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Jay Buhner as the only Seattle players with 700 or more RBI.
Astros: CF George Springer returned to the lineup after a day off. Giants manager Dusty Baker gave Springer a day off Monday after saying data being analyzed by the team suggested Springer was at risk for a potential injury if he didn't get a rest. Springer led off the game with a single and went 1 for 5. He has hit safely in 18 of 19 games.
Astros: RHP Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.90) takes the mound in the series finale with a 7-1 record against the Mariners.
Mariners: LHP Nick Margevicius (1-3, 5.35) is scheduled to make his seventh start. Seattle is 1-5 behind the 24-year-old rookie this season.
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