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Orioles-Astros series preview: Last year’s champs just got some more pitching help

The Astros rotation scuffled in July, but they just swung a big trade to get back old friend Justin Verlander. The O’s will miss him this time.

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Houston Astros v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

MLB’s more balanced schedule this season means that, instead of playing the Yankees every weekend down the stretch, the Orioles (70-42) will spend more time in the AL Central and the West. That includes three games at home this week against the Houston Astros before a nine-game swing through Seattle, San Diego and Oakland.

Within the AL West, it’s the Rangers’ Texas-sized offseason shopping spree and emergence as a contender that have been the talk of the division this year. But while the Rangers have had their booms and busts the last few years, it’s the Astros who have made themselves into a perennial contender year-in, year-out. All they did was win the World Series last year, after all.

At 64-49, the Astros are 2.5 games behind Texas, and 3.5 ahead of a suddenly-surging Seattle. But they kept pace with their in-state rival in splashy trade deadline signings, picking up Justin Verlander’s two-year, $86 million deal from the Mets in exchange for outfielders Ryan Clifford and Drew Gilbert and cash considerations. Verlander, you might remember, won his second World Series and third Cy Young with Houston last year, but owner Jim Crane refused to match the Mets’ offer for him. Now he’s back, anyway.

What led Crane to recant? Well, Houston didn’t sign any starting pitching depth this winter, starters Lance McCullers and Luis García are out for the season, and José Urquidy was just activated off the 60-day IL on Sunday. As for the rest, Framber Valdez has battled inconsistency in July, Cristian Javier has shown signs of fatigue, and Hunter Brown and J.P. France are largely untested rookies.

Houston’s offense has lagged behind Texas’s this year, but they recently got back Yordan Alvarez (oblique) and José Altuve (also oblique), two huge additions for them down the stretch.

One more thing about Houston. Everyone compares them to the Orioles as the progenitors of the Tanking Blueprint, but there’s one big difference: Houston’s farm system is considered one of the five worst in the sport. First-year GM Dana Brown insisted leading up to the trade deadline that he “really wouldn’t want to give up the farm.” Well, with the Verlander trade, that apparently happened. Interesting. . .

Clearly, the Astros have pushed all their chips in, hoping to make it two championships in a row.

Game 1: Tuesday, Aug. 8, 7:05 ET, MASN

Framber Valdez (9-7, 3.07 ERA) v. Grayson Rodriguez (2-3, 6.09 ERA)

This is a weird matchup of two pitchers who are looking very different from their statlines. Valdez had an ERA of 7.29 in four rocky starts in July, then he no-hit the Guardians on August 1. Is he great now? He had a sub-3.00 ERA in all of April, May and June, and Valdez himself said he “just wasn’t as focused” in his last few starts. So it bears seeing whether July was a blip or a sign of something else.

Grayson Rodriguez, meanwhile, has looked like a changed man since returning from a month-and-a-half of work down in Triple-A. He’s had trouble getting out of the sixth inning, but he has a 0.90 ERA in the first five innings of his four starts. And of the nine runs he’s allowed in that stretch, four were by runners he left on that an Orioles reliever allowed to score. He’s held opponents to a .195 average and surrendered no home runs.

Game 2: Wednesday, Aug. 9, 7:05 ET, MASN

Cristian Javier (7-2, 4.39 ERA) v. Jack Flaherty (8-6, 4.28 ERA)

Cristian Javier has been durable, tied for the Astros team lead in starts (21). But like Valdez, fatigue might be starting to get to him. After going 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA in May, Javier had a 5.79 ERA in June and 6.86 in July. He’s allowed three or more runs in four of his last five starts, including one eight-run clunker on July 3 versus Texas. He’s got marked lefty/righty splits (.841/.586 OPS), so figure to see a Wednesday Orioles lineup full of southpaws.

Jack Flaherty’s Orioles debut was as good as you could ask for: six innings with one run allowed and eight strikeouts versus the Blue Jays last week. His fastball was up in velocity and his breaking stuff was just nasty. If he could bottle some of that in his second career Orioles start, it’d be pretty sweet. A handful of Astros have faced Flaherty once. That includes José Altuve (0-for-3), José Abreu (1-for-3, homer), Alex Bregman (0-for-2) and Mauricio Dubón (0-for-3).

Game 3: Thursday, Aug. 10, 12:35 ET, MASN

Hunter Brown (8-7, 4.07 ERA) v. Dean Kremer (10-4, 4.61 ERA)

Like Javier, Hunter Brown has been reliable in the rotation, with a team-high (tied) 21 starts this season. The rookie out of Wayne State is striking out ten hitters per game and walking under three. Like Javier, he had a downer of a July, his monthly ERA going from 3.65 in June to 5.92 the following month. In Brown’s last start, though, he allowed just two earned runs on five hits and one walk in six innings in a win over the Yankees.

Dean Kremer has been up and down for the Orioles this year, but except for a five-run clunker on July 19 against the Dodgers, he’s given his team a chance to win. Kremer’s last time out, he struggled to complete five innings against the New York Mets, allowing two runs on two hits and four walks, but the O’s offense carried the team to a 10-3 victory. One concerning trend for Kremer: his walks are up (12 in his last 21 innings, compared to 12 in 50.2 innings before that) and his strikeouts are down (4.86 K/BB in June versus 2.64 in July).


How many games will the Orioles win this series against Houston?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    Three (sweep!)
    (53 votes)
  • 63%
    (405 votes)
  • 22%
    (146 votes)
  • 5%
    Zero (swept!)
    (34 votes)
638 votes total Vote Now