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Orioles-Astros series preview: Another first place team on deck

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Things aren’t going to get any easier for the Orioles this weekend as they head to Houston for a series against the first-place Astros.

MLB: Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Orioles were in Houston, they were on the wrong end of a brand new record for most strikeouts ever in a three-game series. It was right about this time last year, late May but not quite Memorial Day, the Orioles got swept and everything seemed terrible for a while.

This year, everything seems terrible already before the Orioles even arrive in Houston. At least they probably won’t set a new strikeout record yet again, although you never really know. The way things are going with the Orioles right now, I won’t put anything past them.

The Astros, if you haven’t been paying attention to the rest of the league this season, are pretty dang good. They have the largest division lead in the American League. They have scored more runs than all but one other team in the AL and they’ve given up fewer runs than anyone else in the league. That’s a good recipe for ending up in first place.

By the way, as terrible as everything seems right now, the Orioles are still on pace to win 90 games and they’re only one game worse than they were through 45 games last season. If someone other than Dylan Bundy, who won’t be pitching in this series, wants to look like they belong in an MLB starting rotation, that would surely help turn things towards a better place.

Game 1: Friday, 8:15pm Eastern

Pitchers: Kevin Gausman (2-3, 6.65 ERA) vs. Joe Musgrove (3-4, 5.63 ERA)

The series opener will have something similar to the first game of the Twins series. This is the worst starting pitcher, by ERA, that the Orioles will face over the three games, by far. Whether the Orioles offense can capitalize, and whether their own struggling starting pitcher can hold a tough Astros lineup in check, is another story.

Two things have defined Kevin Gausman’s 2017 so far. The first is that he has been completely horrible (as opposed to just bad) away from Camden Yards. The second is that he has been destroyed, surprisingly, by right-handed batters, who have a 1.032 OPS against him. That takes some real work to do after ten games. Righty batters against Gausman are collectively an MVP winner.

If the Astros want, they can hit him with an almost all-righty lineup. The Orioles need Gausman to work out whatever demons are haunting him right now and well, there’s a good chance he’ll need to battle them tonight.

Musgrove, 24, is in his first full MLB season in the Astros rotation. You can see it’s not going very well so far. He, too, has had more of a problem against righties than lefties, even though he is also a righty. What’s that about? Hopefully Orioles batters can take advantage. Musgrove has a home run problem, with nine allowed in 46.1 innings.

Game 2: Saturday, 7:15pm Eastern

Pitchers: Wade Miley (1-2, 2.59 ERA) vs. TBD, possibly Dallas Keuchel (7-0, 1.84 ERA)

Keuchel has had a brief disabled list stint due to a pinched nerve in his neck, but it’s currently expected that he will be the starter in this game. Bad break for the O’s, as Keuchel looks like he might be back in his 2015 Cy Young-winning form, or even better than that.

If you were wondering whether the Orioles are having another season where they’re among the worst against lefty pitchers, which Keuchel is, the answer is actually no. By OPS, the Orioles at .734 are the fourth-best team in the AL against lefties. The Astros, at a .708 OPS, are right behind the Orioles, it turns out.

Miley’s ERA is going to go up unless his walk rate goes down. The ERA may go up even if his walk rate goes down. When you’re walking 13.3% of the batters you face, eventually very bad things are going to happen. It’s a small miracle his ERA is so low. The Astros don’t walk a ton as a team, with a walk rate that’s 11th in the AL, so perhaps they won’t be poised to take advantage of Miley being Miley.

Game 3: Sunday, 2:10pm Eastern

Pitchers: TBD, possibly not Ubaldo Jimenez (1-2, 7.17 ERA) vs. Lance McCullers (5-1, 2.43 ERA)

What do you think it’s like to have a young starting pitcher actually living up to or exceeding his promise? Orioles fans might not know, but the Astros do, thanks to McCullers, who at 23 already has 46 big league starts under his belt and a 3.05 career ERA. That’s diving down thus far this season. More bad luck for the Orioles to get both of Houston’s good starting pitchers in this series.

The most interesting plot to this game may be who the Orioles end up picking to be the starting pitcher and what that says about their starting rotation for the remainder of the season. It can’t possibly be Jimenez again, can it? MASN’s Roch Kubatko wrote that Alec Asher’s two innings on Wednesday don’t necessarily rule him out. Jayson Aquino also remains a possibility.

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Manny Machado is batting just .196/.275/.304 over the last 14 days. His buddy Jonathan Schoop is doing even worse, with a .188/.250/.292 batting line in the same span. Also, Chris Davis has reached base just three times in 25 plate appearances over the last week.

The starting pitching has been a problem for the Orioles, as has their bullpen, but they’re not the only problems afflicting the team right now. It’s been a total team effort to send them into a 3-10 tailspin and if they’re going to climb out of it before exploding into an inferno, it’s going to take a total team effort to do that, too.

Maybe they can even start doing that this weekend, but I won’t be holding my breath. How are you feeling about this series coming up?

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win against the Astros this weekend?

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    0 (The Orioles will be swept)
    (82 votes)
  • 46%
    1
    (102 votes)
  • 11%
    2
    (25 votes)
  • 5%
    3 (The Orioles will sweep the Astros)
    (11 votes)
220 votes total Vote Now