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Orioles at Astros series preview: May 24-26

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The Birds head to Houston for a three-game set

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles are set to finish up their tour of the American League West with a three-game set against the Astros at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas this week.

This series could prove to be easier than thought at the beginning of the season. The Astros, whom many picked to take the crown as the West champs, have floundered under the pressure, currently sitting in fifth place in their division.

Their starting rotation has the fifth-worst ERA (4.99) in MLB. On offense, they hit a good amount of home runs (56, 7th in MLB), walk a lot (174, 5th) and steal more bases (39) than anybody else in the game. But they are middle of the pack in terms of runs scored (182, 18th) and strike out a ridiculous amount (445, most in MLB).

On top of that, the Birds will miss left-hander Dallas Keuchel. The defending Cy Young award winner has had a tough season thus far (2-6, 5.92), but you don't want to be the team he figures it out against.

Game 1 - Tuesday, May 24 at 8:10 p.m. ET, MASN 2

RHP Chris Tillman (6-1, 2.61 ERA) vs. RHP Doug Fister (4-3, 4.22 ERA)

The O's ace is pitching as well as he has his entire career. He is a winner of his last five starts and has thrown no fewer than six innings since April 14. Both his strikeout numbers (9.2 per nine innings pitched) and walks (3.7 per nine innings pitched) are super high, but he has allowed only two home runs and 39 hits across 51.2 innings pitched.

Over four starts against Houston in his career, Tillman is 2-2 with a 2.45 ERA, 17 hits, 12 walks and 19 strikeouts over 25.2 innings. On the flip side, Fister is 4-2 with a 4.63 ERA in eight games (seven starts) against the O's.

Here are the individual batter's stats versus the pitchers from Daily Baseball Data:


This season, which was supposed to serve as a bounce-back year for Fister, is not going to plan. He has an ERA+ of 94 and a FIP of 4.54. Basically, he is doing the exact same thing he did with the Nationals last summer. He does great with right-handed batters as they have just a .179 batting average. But lefties are crushing him with a line of .315/.362/.546 with five of the six home runs he has allowed. Sounds like a Hyun-soo Kim type of game to me!

Game 2 - Wednesday, May 25 at 8:10 p.m. ET, MASN

TBD vs. RHP Collin McHugh (4-4, 5.13)

This is Tyler Wilson's (2-2, 3.68 ERA) turn in the rotation, but the O's website does not have him penciled in to start the game as of the writing of this post. Mike Wright (2-3, 4.97 ERA) could take the hill on normal rest, but Wilson has been the more consistent of the two. Not to mention, Tyler has never seen the 'Stros, while Wright allowed five runs over five innings pitched against them in a 2015 start.

After winning 19 games in 2015, McHugh has had issues so far in 2016. His ERA+ is all the way down at 78. The righty is always in trouble as he allows 12 hits and 2.3 walks per nine innings pitched. That's a WHIP of 1.585. And he is usually good for a home run. He has allowed six home runs over nine starts.

Over his career, he has started three games against the O's In that time, he is 1-0 with a 3.66 ERA, pitching 19.1 innings and allowing 22 hits, three home runs, four walks and 15 strikeouts. Here is a more detailed rundown on the individual numbers, again from Daily Baseball Data:

Game 3 - Thursday, May 26 at 8:10 p.m. ET, MASN 2

Kevin Gausman (0-1, 2.70 ERA) vs. RHP Lance McCullers (0-1, 5.91 ERA)

What more does Gausman have to do in order to get a win this season? He now has five straight no decisions. Yet again, he looked pretty good against the Angels. He tossed 6.2 innings and allowed juts one run. His fastball was back up in that tasty 94-98 mph range, but, as Matt Wieters put it post-game, he was a "little too fresh" and had to work hard to get through the Anaheim lineup. Even still, he deserved better than another game without a W.

Facing the Astros will be new for him, but his road ERA so far this year is just 2.55 and he has 22 strikeouts over 17.2 innings away from Camden Yards. Houston strikes out more than any other team in baseball (455 times so far), so this could easily be a double digit K kind of outing.

The 22-year-old McCullers has made just two starts so far after returning from a shoulder injury a few weeks ago. His first game back, against Texas, was abysmal (4.2 innings, five runs, three walks, four strikeouts). His second start, against Boston, was better (six innings, two runs, three walks, seven strikeouts).

McCullers is a power pitcher who strikes out a lot of guys and walks a lot of guys. The one start he has made against the Birds was a gem. On June 3 last year, he put in a complete game, one-run performance, allowing four hits, walking no one and striking out 11 Orioles. Here is a rundown on how all the Baltimore batters have done:

This sounds like it will be a must-see pitching matchup of young starters. So, of course, it will be something like 5-3 in the third inning, I'm sure, with both hurlers failing to go six innings! Woo!

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The Astros are not a very good team right now. The Orioles are a very good team right now. This should be an easy series win, you would think. On paper, the O's should take, at least, two out of three. Tillman has the edge in game one. If Wilson throws in game two, that is another advantage for the Birds.

Game three is a toss up, but Gausman feels like he is settling into a game-in, game-out dominant arm. Who knows! Let us know what you are thinking in the comments, in the poll and on Facebook and Twitter!