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Orioles-Astros series preview: taking on the World Series champs

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The Astros were really good last year and may have gotten even better during the offseason.

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

Well, the first series of the season could have gone better, eh? The Orioles won one of three games against the Minnesota Twins, but probably deserved to get swept. Luckily, “deserved” versus “actual” are two very different things. On paper, the Astros are a much better team than the Orioles but, as the saying goes, that is why they play the games.

There will be plenty of energy at Minute Maid Park for this three-game set. Monday will be Houston’s home opener for the 2018 season. It is the team’s first time back in the park for a game that counts since the World Series. The fans are going to be amped up and the players are sure to match that level of excitement.

Houston had the best offense in baseball a year ago. They led the league in runs scored (896), batting average (.282), on base percentage (.346) and slugging percentage (.478). The pitching was the weak spot (4.12 ERA) but that was still good enough for 11th in the league and included less than a half season of Justin Verlander.

In other words, this is a going to be a real tough series for the Orioles. They will need a lot to go right for them to get a positive result from the trip to Houston. But crazier things have happened.

Game 1

RHP Chris Tillman (1-7, 7.84 ERA)* vs RHP Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA)*
7:10 p.m. ET, MASN, ESPN

Tilman makes his long-awaited (?) return to a Birdland mound. It wasn’t exactly a smooth spring for the veteran right-hander. He only tossed 12.1 innings over three outings, allowing 11 runs on 16 hits, eight walks and four strikeouts. I’m sure he will do just fine back in a real big league game.

This will be Morton’s first time pitching since game seven of the World Series when he shut down the Dodgers lineup to clinch the title for Houston. It makes sense that he would pitch in Houston’s home opener.

Only four current Orioles have ever faced Morton, and they have pretty good numbers overall. Tim Beckham is 2-for-2 with a triple. Colby Rasmus is 7-for-14 with a home run and two RBI. Adam Jones is 1-for-5 with two RBI. Danny Valencia is 1-for-9. But those numbers don’t really matter much.

Houston’s offense has seen a lot more of Tillman. Alex Bregman is a perfect 3-for-3 with two home runs. Evan Gattis is 4-for-8 with two doubles. Whereas George Springer (3-for-15), Jose Altuve (4-for-19) and Marwin Gonzalez (1-for-8) have struggled.

Game 2

RHP Mike Wright Jr. (0-0, 5.76 ERA)* vs Justin Verlander (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
8:10 p.m. ET, MASN, MLBN

There was some thought that, with the O’s having off on Friday, they would be able to skip the fifth spot in the rotation the first time through. That won’t be happening. Instead, the world will be subjected to seeing Wright Jr. try to navigate the Astros lineup. Who’s excited?

If you believe it, Verlander is 35 years old. The move to Houston last season has reinvigorated the former Cy Young and MVP winner. After the trade, Verlander finished the season with a 1.06 ERA, 2.69 FIP and whopping 376 ERA+. He continued that run of form to begin 2018 with six scoreless innings and a win against Texas.

Verlander has had his way with this batch of O’s. Although Beckham (3-for-3, one home run) and Manny Machado (7-for-24, double, triple and home run) have had some nice moments against him, the bad far outweighs the good. Jonathan Schoop (2-for-16), Chris Davis (7-for-32), Colby Rasmus (4-for-21) and Pedro Alvarez (2-for-14) would all rather face different hurlers.

Game 3

TBD vs LHP Dallas Keuchel (0-1, 4.50 ERA)
2:10 p.m. ET, MASN 2

For some reason, the Orioles’ website doesn’t have a starter listed just yet, but this should be Dylan Bundy’s game. Bundy was one of the lone bright spots in Baltimore’s first series of the year. The ace threw seven scoreless innings, striking out seven, walking one and allowing five hits. He got the no decision against Minnesota, but he put the team in a position to win the game despite some lackluster offensive support.

Keuchel was the Cy Young award winner in 2015, but he is the only Houston pitcher with a loss so far. The southpaw delivered a “quality start” against the Rangers on the second day of the season, allowing three runs over six innings on one walk, seven hits and four strike outs.

Most of these batter/picher matchup numbers are extremely small samples. For Bundy, it’s no different. The entire Houston lineup has just seven hits in 24 total at-bats against Baltimore’s top starter.

The O’s have seen Keuchel more often. All together they are 34-for-131 against the lefty. Expect to see Valencia (8-for-22, two home runs, two doubles) in this game. Chris Davis (2-for-14) may get a day off. And this won’t be the right spot for Craig Gentry (4-for-24) either.

*stats from the 2017 season

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    3 (The Orioles sweep the Astros)
    (12 votes)
  • 5%
    2
    (20 votes)
  • 36%
    1
    (146 votes)
  • 55%
    0 (The Orioles get swept by the Astros)
    (222 votes)
400 votes total Vote Now