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Orioles-Astros series preview: Another contender in the way as O’s try to clinch more

The Astros lead the AL West, but not by much. They’ve got a lot to play for.

MLB: AUG 10 Astros at Orioles Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Fresh off a weekend series in which the Orioles held their position in the division and also clinched at least getting a wild card berth into the postseason, the Orioles run right into another team that’s looking to secure its place in the 2023 postseason.

The path is not so easy for the Astros, who are not running away with their division at all. Houston has a lead of just 1.5 games over second place Texas and 2.5 games over third place Seattle. The team could yet have to settle for a wild card, although it’s helped by having the Rangers and Mariners still with seven games to play against one another. They will not be clinching anything at all in this series.

When these two teams met early last month, the Astros took two out of three, with a late comeback fueled by an uncommon Félix Bautista meltdown giving them one win and an early advantage combined with a late pile-on against Mike Baumann and Shintaro Fujinami giving them another. The Orioles kept their no-sweep streak alive by winning the finale behind a strong Dean Kremer start and a shaky but ultimately successful save chance from Bautista.

If the head-to-head tiebreaker between these two teams becomes relevant, things will have gone quite poorly indeed for the Orioles. The O’s have 93 wins to Houston’s 84. The Orioles need wins in this series not for tiebreaker purposes but just to keep themselves up on the Rays in their own division race.

Monday’s game will be especially crucial, with the Rays having the day off. If the Orioles win on either of the remaining off days in which the Rays play, the math gets that much tougher for Tampa. Let’s be honest that after celebrating their wild card berth on Sunday afternoon, the O’s may not be at their peak in the opening game, and we should probably accept this ahead of time.

Winning in this series also brings the Orioles closer to clinching the next thing on the postseason ladder. The magic number that gets them at least a guarantee of a home wild card series is, I believe, three - a combination of Orioles wins or Rangers losses. The magic number to be at least the second wild card team is two - O’s wins or Blue Jays losses. My math could be wrong.

Each of these teams enters this series having gone 5-5 over their last ten games.

Game 1: Monday, 8:10 ET, MASN

Starting pitchers: John Means (second game since return) vs. Justin Verlander (24 GS, 143.1 IP, 3.39 ERA, 4.09 FIP combined for 2023)

As of this writing, this is the only game of the series for which both teams have announced a starting pitcher. We can always guess based on how things lined up in rotations last time around, but for whatever reason neither team has made a Wednesday starter official by Monday morning and the Orioles haven’t said one for Tuesday’s game yet.

It’s not exactly going to be an “ease back into the big league routine” kind of start for Means, with his second outing since returning going up against this Houston team that’s got some seriously dangerous hitters. It’s a much more top-heavy lineup than the Orioles, with Yordan Alvarez over a 1.000 OPS and Jose Altuve at .939. Those are elite results that the O’s just don’t have. But Houston’s lineup also has four regular players who are below-average hitters overall.

I was all set to make some kind of joke here implying that any Astros success is because they’ve found a new way to cheat, but if they have, it’s not working at home. The team’s home OPS split of .732 is 69 points worse than its road split. Overall, Houston is only one game better than .500 at home (38-37) so at least in 2023, this is the place where you want to play them.

As for Verlander, I’ll just say that I don’t have high hopes for the Orioles lineup against him because of yesterday’s partying. I’m always happy to be surprised.

Game 2: Tuesday, 8:10 ET, MASN

Starting pitchers: TBD vs. Hunter Brown (28 G/27 GS, 146.1 IP, 4.61 ERA, 3.91 FIP)

If the Orioles follow what they did the last time through the rotation, this start would go to Kyle Gibson. The veteran is coming off of one of his better starts, in which he allowed just one run in 6.2 innings against the Cardinals, but still took the loss because his offense scored him zero runs in the game. I am never excited to see Gibson pitch, but he has been fine often enough.

Brown, no known relation to this writer, is a 24-year-old rookie righty who brought top 25-50 prospect status into this season on the strength of his 2022 Triple-A track record, plus a handful of MLB games in which he dropped an 0.89 ERA.

As with Orioles rookie Grayson Rodriguez, there have been some bumps before sustained MLB success. Brown’s faltering in the second half of the season, with a 5.50 ERA since the break, which is not like Rodriguez at all. His most recent outing saw him pitch five shutout innings against the Athletics. He is also a worse pitcher at home than on the road this year (5.60 home ERA). The Orioles tagged him for five runs in six innings when they faced him at Camden Yards last month.

Game 3: Wednesday, 2:10 ET, MASN

Starting pitchers: TBD vs. TBD

If the Orioles follow the previous turn through the rotation, Kyle Bradish would pitch in this game. Perhaps they’re debating whether to have him pitch on Tuesday on regular rest instead, or perhaps something else is going on.

The Astros starter who followed Brown in the rotation last time was Cristian Javier. I think there were high hopes for him in Houston after he finished last season with a 2.54 ERA in 30 games (25 starts) but he has not followed up on that this year, sitting with a 4.74 ERA, 4.87 FIP, and 1.292 WHIP. In contrast to Brown, Javier has pitched better at home (3.86 ERA) but he’s also had a poor second half (5.40 ERA).


The thing about getting past one big series is that the next series is also going to be a big one, at least until the division is settled. The Orioles have been playing series like this for pretty much the whole season. Either they need to hang tough because it’s a good team or they need to demolish a team that isn’t good.

This is a hang tough series, because the Astros are good and the Rays are going to be playing the Angels, whose front office and ownership have quit on this season and whose September record of 4-12 (after an 8-19 August) reflects that.


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

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    0 (Orioles are swept)
    (9 votes)
  • 33%
    (227 votes)
  • 59%
    (406 votes)
  • 5%
    3 (Orioles do the sweeping)
    (40 votes)
682 votes total Vote Now