BALTIMORE ORIOLES (26-26)
at HOUSTON ASTROS (23-32)
First pitch: Friday, 8:10 p.m. ET
Line: Baltimore -115, Houston +105, Total: 9
The sizzling-hot Astros look to extend their winning streak to seven when they host the Orioles in the second game of a four-game set at Minute Maid Park on Friday night.
Baltimore comes into this contest as the third-place team in the AL East and has gone 3-6 over its past nine games. Inconsistent pitching has really hurt the O's, as opposing offenses have scored 6.2 runs per game against them over the past nine contests. They took a loss in the first game of this series by a score of 3-1, as they managed to out-hit the Astros, 7-5, but collected just one extra-base hit. Nelson Cruz (.310 BA) continued his tremendous season with a 2-for-4 game and the current AL home run and RBI leader is on a 10-game hitting streak where he has gone 17-for-36 (.472) with five doubles, seven home runs, 12 RBI and 13 runs. Houston has been on a hot streak recently, winning its past six games by a dominating margin of 37-11. In Thursday’s victory, they received a big start from Brad Peacock (6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 8 K’s) while OF George Springer (.268) provided the game-winning two-run homer in the seventh inning. Springer had plenty of hype while playing in the minors (37 HR, 45 SB in 2013), and is quickly living up to his billing. The 24-year-old is the hottest hitter in baseball right now with seven homers in his past seven games and a .390 BA with 17 RBI during his current 11-game hit streak. Taking the mound for the Orioles on Friday night will be RHP Miguel Gonzalez (3-3, 4.35 ERA) who will be looking for his third consecutive win. Opposing him will be 24-year-old LHP Brett Oberholtzer (1-6, 5.32 ERA) as he is coming off his first victory of the year. Baltimore has gone 15-14 on the road this season and may have the advantage against an Astros team that is just 11-15 in front of its fans. The Orioles' loss on Friday night put them at 6-4 against this Houston ballclub over the past three seasons as the two teams have split their four games this year. Baltimore is 84-55 (.604) in the past three seasons after three straight games without a stolen base, but the Astros are 7-1 over the past two seasons with a hot bullpen (1.25 or less WHIP in previous 15 games).
Miguel Gonzalez has been a solid starter for the Orioles over the past two seasons, but seemed to benefit from some luck with hitters having a .272 BABIP last year. This season, his numbers have been more normal, as batters are hitting .311 BABIP while he has continued to allow too many home runs (1.39 HR/9). He has raised his strikeout rate from 6.3 K/9 last year to a solid 8.0 K/9 this season, but has seen his control suffer to the tune of 3.3 BB/9. Gonzalez does seem to be improving as the season progresses though, and has seen his ERA drop in each successive outing while having three consecutive quality starts. He’s faced the Astros three times in his career, going 1-1 (2-1 team record) with a 3.78 ERA and 1.50 WHIP, but had a solid outing (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 6 K’s, 2 BB) against them in a no-decision just three weeks ago on May 10. C Jason Castro has not been fooled by the righty in this matchup, going 4-for-8 with three doubles, a homer and 4 RBI in this matchup, as 3B Matt Dominguez (4-for-7, 1 RBI) and OF George Springer (2-for-3, 1 double, solo HR) have also had success against him. On the other hand, DH Chris Carter (1-for-8, 3 K’s) and 2B Jose Altuve (1-for-5, 2 walks) have done little in this matchup. Baltimore’s bullpen has been average this season, going 9-7 with a 3.80 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, while saving 16-of-24 (67%) games. Zach Britton (0.94 ERA, 3 saves) has pitched his way into the closer role to replace injured closer Tommy Hunter (groin) despite Britton striking out just 18 batters in 28.2 frames (5.7 K/9) and going 3-for-4 in save chances.
Brett Oberholtzer earned his first win of the season in his last start when he went six innings while giving up three runs (2 ER) on six hits and one walk with eight strikeouts against the Mariners. It was only his second quality start in eight chances this season, as he did poorly in his previous three outings (14.1 IP) before the win, giving up 16 runs off of 28 hits with four homers allowed. Despite his poor performance, he has been hurt by an inflated .357 BABIP this year while having a solid 8.0 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. Oberholtzer took on this Orioles team once last year, earning a win in an incredible start as he went seven scoreless innings with allowing a mere three hits and zero walks with six strikeouts. No player on Baltimore’s roster has had more than three at-bats against the 24-year-old, and the three hits have all been singles. He will be going up against one of the best offensive players in the majors right now though, as OF Nelson Cruz (.310 BA) leads the American League with 19 home runs and 49 RBI. While Cruz has been tearing the cover off the ball, 1B Chris Davis (.237 BA) has gone hitless in his past four games and has just seven home runs this season after leading the league with 53 in 2013. The Astros’ bullpen has been awful this season, going 5-8 with a 4.84 ERA and 1.46 WHIP, while converting only 9-of-17 (53%) saves. But during the month of May, these relievers have been much more effective, going 3-2 with a 3.44 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Closer Chad Qualls (2.76 ERA, 4 saves) is 4-for-5 in save opportunities after pitching a perfect ninth inning on Thursday, and has a 19:3 K/BB ratio over 16.1 frames this year.