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Orioles-Astros series preview: A tougher team from Texas arrives

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The Orioles just beat up on a struggling Rangers team. Next up, the AL-best Astros, a much tougher opponent to measure up against.

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

The Orioles have spent the past four days picking up steam against the reeling Rangers. They'll still be facing a team from Texas this weekend, but it's going to be the Houston Astros this time. That won't be quite so easy a task: The Astros have the best record in the American League. They have been laying waste to just about everybody. Houston is not 63-32 by accident.

That is a .663 winning percentage for the Astros, and if they keep to that pace, they will win 107 games this season. They are the only above-.500 team in their division at the moment, 16 games ahead of the second place Mariners. Not only that, but they're 11 games ahead, in the loss column, of the Red Sox for the top seed in the AL postseason standings.

When you look at the kinds of things that Astros players have accomplished this season, it's not much of a surprise why they are where they are in the standings. Just about every position player is performing well at the plate, including bench players. Four of the five rotation spots have been at least solid, and the bullpen has been good enough to not get in the way.

That doesn't mean everything has been perfect. The Astros seek a starter at the trade deadline and have been mentioned occasionally as suitors for Oakland's Sonny Gray. They may target a bullpen improvement, too, with the O's Zach Britton being one name on their radar.

The Orioles would have to sweep this series just to get back to .500. If that happened, perhaps all of the buy-sell talk could be revisited. It's not very likely, but hey, anything can happen in baseball.

Game 1 - Friday, 7:05

Starting pitchers: Mike Fiers (6-4, 3.75 ERA) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (4-5, 7.01 ERA)

One way or another, there are going to be fireworks at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday night. Some of them might go off during the game when the Astros lineup gets a crack at Jimenez. Against right-handed pitchers, the Astros have batted a combined .293/.359/.507 this season. Could be a long night at the stadium, just not one where the drama goes on for very long.

Fiers is what passes for the workhorse of the Astros starting rotation, although this is mostly by virtue of making all of his starts this year. He's averaging fewer than 5.2 innings per start. A particular problem for Fiers has been home runs. He's allowed 21 in 100.2 innings. That's horrendous - for him, anyway. Maybe it will be good news for the Orioles on a warm July night.

Game 2 - Saturday, 7:05

Starting pitchers: Collin McHugh (first 2017 start) vs. Chris Tillman (1-5, 7.20 ERA)

With Jimenez followed the next day by Tillman, it won't take long to find out whether the Orioles sweeping the Rangers was the result of the Orioles being better or the Rangers just being in a bad place right now. Just thinking about the powerhouse Astros offense facing this Houston team is enough to make me wince.

Tillman will be making just his second July start in this game. He's working on two consecutive non-horrible starts, dating back to June 30. Tillman has still yet to pitch more than six innings in a game this year and he's only hit that many innings in three of twelve starts. So that's, you know, not ideal.

McHugh, 30, has yet to make a start this season as he's been on the disabled list with a right elbow impingement. Sounds like a painful thing for a pitcher to deal with. The rust showed in his rehab appearances. Will that be the case as he makes his season debut? McHugh has a 3.71 ERA for the Astros over the past three seasons combined.

Game 3 - Sunday, 1:35

Starting pitchers: Lance McCullers (7-2, 3.28 ERA) vs. Dylan Bundy (9-8, 4.18 ERA)

McCullers has struck out 111 batters in 96 innings this season, so it could well be breezy at Camden Yards on Sunday afternoon whether or not there's any wind. What's even more impressive than that is that when the ball does get put in play off McCullers, it's been on the ground 63.1% of the time, according to Fangraphs.

Given that, how has this guy allowed ANY runs? I'm not sure. Batters are hitting just .229 against McCullers this season. Like most pitchers, he has a bit more of a problem once men reach base, but even the "men on" batting line against is just .257/.317/.368.

Thanks to the All-Star break and some rotation juggling, Bundy got 12 days rest before his previous start. He'll be on regular rest for this start. Was that All-Star layoff enough to refresh him after what was a tough pre-break stretch? Bundy reached a new high for innings pitched in a season last time out. Where does that leave him? I guess we'll find out.

Since the beginning of June, Bundy has a 6.38 ERA in eight starts, with batters having an .868 OPS against him. He's had even bigger problems in five day starts for the season, with a .909 OPS against. Small sample size, or ongoing issues?

One way or another, we're going to have a better idea of who the Orioles are right now after this series against the AL's cream of the crop.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win against the Astros in this series?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    0 (The Orioles will get swept)
    (83 votes)
  • 44%
    1
    (121 votes)
  • 17%
    2
    (47 votes)
  • 8%
    3 (The Orioles will sweep the Astros)
    (22 votes)
273 votes total Vote Now