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Orioles-Astros series preview: The first meeting with the AL’s best team

The Orioles’ Wild Card quest continues with three games against the best team in the AL.

Baltimore Orioles v Houston Astros
Last time the Orioles were at MInute Maid Park, in June 2021, they swept the Astros in three.
Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Those schedule-watching naysayers who graded the Orioles’ second-half schedule as MLB’s hardest? It’s in part because of stuff like this: the Orioles haven’t faced the Houston Astros once in 2022, but now they’re set to meet up for seven games in the span of a month.

At 81-45, Houston is the best team in the AL right now. That’s partly thanks to New York’s 7-14 August slump, but the Astros are plenty deserving of their success, with the AL’s third-best OPS and the best ERA. A 39-year-old post-Tommy John surgery Justin Verlander is having the best season of his career, at 16-3 with a 1.87 ERA. (Those numbers are so crazy I want to type them again.) They also have a new first baseman/DH who can hit for power. Things are working out for the Astros, what can I say.

The Orioles managed, in thrilling fashion, to scrape out a series win against Chicago in the 11th inning last night, but their Wild Card competition did not cooperate as Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Toronto all won. The Orioles offense has FELT really flat lately, but actually the team OPS in August is the second-best in the AL after … [checks notes] Houston. Darn. Gunnar Henderson call-up watchers, keep the faith.

Game 1: Friday, 8:10 ET, MASN 2

RHP Kyle Bradish (1-5, 6.25 ERA, 73 K) vs. RHP Lance McCullers (1-1, 2.45 ERA, 11 K)

Lance McCullers has been a consistent weapon for Houston since 2015, with a 46-31 record and 3.55 ERA in parts of six seasons. McCullers has missed most of the 2022 season with a right forearm strain he suffered in April. He’s 1-1 in just two starts since being activated on August 13. The Orioles don’t have much experience with McCullers: Cedric Mullins is 0-for-1, Robinson Chirinos is 1-for-2, and Rougned Odor is 4-for-20.

Kyle Bradish has been flashy but frustrating this season. He’ll show brilliance, striking out 11 Cardinals hitters in his third-ever MLB start, for example, and then fumble: between May 21 and July 29 Bradish failed to complete five innings in any start. His last time out was pretty good, though: Bradish threw 5.2 innings against Boston and allowed three runs on nine hits with six strikeouts. Towards the beginning of a Bradish start, it’s pretty easy to see what kind of a day he’ll have by watching his fastball command and the shape of his slider. If he hopes to find success against Houston, better hope the two are sharp. Christian Vázquez is the only Astro who’s seen Bradish, back in his time as a Red Sock. Vázquez is 1-for-3.

Game 2: Saturday, 7:10 ET, MASN 2

RHP Dean Kremer (5-4, 3.45 ERA) vs. RHP José Urquidy (12-4, 3.63 ERA, 104 K)

It’s a shame that, with his numbers, José Urquidy is only the Astros’ second-best starter—and I mean that for Urquidy himself and for the Orioles. The good news for Baltimore is that Urquidy’s peripherals—exit velocity, expected average, K%, whiff rate, and so on—aren’t great. It’s getting a little late in the season for a “regression to the mean” but maybe some of those hard-hit balls Urquidy is allowing will drop for hits. Cedric Mullins is 2-for-4 against Urquidy, Rougned Odor is 2-for-8 and Anthony Santander is 1-for-4.

Dean Kremer shone his last time out, throwing 5.1 innings of one-run baseball during the MLB Little League Classic in Williamsport. Kremer has had a hot August, with a 2.59 ERA in 24.1 innings. He’s never faced the Astros before.

Game 3: Sunday, 2:10 ET, MASN 2

RHP Austin Voth (4-1, 4.73 ERA) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (16-3, 1.87 ERA, 148 K)

It’s not clear what Verlander offered Satan in exchange for his performance this season, but it seems to have worked. Verlander won the Cy Young in 2011 (24-5, 2.40 ERA) and 2019 (21-6, 2.58 ERA) and at age 39, he’s arguably outpitching himself from those years, leading the AL in wins, ERA, ERA+, and WHIP (0.846). Verlander is having real success with his curveball and changeup combo, which batters are hitting .196 and .172 against. So… good luck, Orioles! Rougned Odor has seen a lot of Verlander, but it’s not been great (.158 AVG in 38 ABs, 2 HR, 3 RBI). Anthony Santander is 2-for-5. Robinson Chirinos is 4-for-14 with two homers.

Austin Voth has been an incredible waiver wire find for the Orioles. He’s got a 2.85 ERA over 15 games with Baltimore, with remarkable consistency. His last time out, facing Chicago, Voth came out with subpar stuff and still gave the Orioles 5.2 innings of two-run pitching. Another thing going for Voth in his heroic quest to unseat Verlander: the element of surprise! No Astro has seen him more than four times, and that Astro is Trey Mancini, who’s 2-for-4.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    3 (O’s sweep)
    (37 votes)
  • 24%
    2
    (105 votes)
  • 52%
    1
    (230 votes)
  • 14%
    0 (O’s get swept)
    (65 votes)
437 votes total Vote Now