Saturday, September 23, 2023
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MLB Preview: Baltimore Orioles (93-56) at Houston Astros (84-66)


SOAK IT IN: The Orioles rallied to beat the Rays yesterday, 5-4 in 11 innings…Beginning in the eighth inning, Baltimore scored a run in four straight frames, the latest the O’s have scored in four innings in a row in franchise history…Adam Frazier tied the game with a two-out RBI double in the ninth, Adley Rutschman tied the game with two-out run-scoring single in the 10th, and Cedric Mullins delivered the walk-off sacrifice fly with one out in the 11th. The Birds and Rays both clinched a postseason berth after Texas lost to Cleveland, shortly before Frazier tied the game in the ninth inning; this will be the first playoff appearance for the O’s since 2016 (AL Wild Card). Baltimore now leads MLB with 47 comeback wins this year and the 83 come-from-behind victories since the start of last year are second-most in MLB behind the Dodgers (85); yesterday marked the second time the Orioles have won when trailing after eight innings this year with both wins coming in September (also: 9/5 at LAA). Rutschman pulled the O’s within a run in the eighth inning with a solo home run off Pete Fairbanks; the pitch was 100.8 mph, tied for the ninth-fastest pitch hit for a homer in MLB this year and the first pitch of 100+ mph hit for a home run by an Oriole in the Statcast era (since 2015).

SOMETHING IN THE ORANGE: The O’s have won 10 of their last 15 games, 12 of 19, 16 of 24, 19 of 28, 22 of 33, and 27 of 41…The Birds have won or split their last eight series, nine of 12 series, and 12 of 16 series…At 93-56 (.624), the Orioles have the best record in the AL and second-best in MLB (see box at right)…The Birds are 45-24 (.652) since the start of July, the best record in the AL and the second-best mark in MLB during that time, behind only the Dodgers at 45-22 (.672)…The team is 155-105 (.596) since June 2022, the second-best record in the AL and fourth-best in MLB during that time. The Orioles hold a 2.0-game lead over the Rays in the AL East and have clinched the season series tiebreaker against Tampa Bay.

SWEEPLESS IN BALTIMORE: The Orioles have gone 87 consecutive series of at least two decisions (no ties) without being swept…According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the fourth-longest streak in MLB history, trailing the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals (124), 1906-09 Chicago Cubs (115), and 1903-05 New York Giants (105)…Baltimore’s current streak is the longest in O’s history, ahead of 46 consecutive sweepless series from 1971-72…The Birds have not been swept in a series of at least two games since May 13-15, 2022 at Detroit (0-3), and not at home in a series of at least two games since August 27-29, 2021 vs. Tampa Bay (0-3).

STRIKE A POSE: Orioles pitching has struck out 1,325 batters this year, surpassing the 2016 and 2019 clubs (1,248) for the most in a single season in team history…The team broke the record on September 6. Starting pitchers have struck out 754 batters this year, surpassing the 1968 rotation (747) for the most in a single season in team history. Relievers have fanned 571 hitters in 2023, fourth-most in one year in O’s history; the 2021 club holds the record with 637 punchouts from relievers.

O THE PLACES YOU’LL GO: The Orioles begin their final road trip of the season tonight in Houston…After three games against the Astros, Baltimore travels to Cleveland for a four-game set against the Guardians beginning on Thursday. Baltimore is 48-26 (.649) away from Camden Yards this season, the best road record in MLB; the .649 road winning percentage would be the best in team history (since 1954), the sixth-best mark in a full season by an AL club since 1977 trailing only Seattle (.728, 59-22) in 2001, Houston (.704, 57-24) in 2018, Minnesota (.679, 55-26) in 2019, and Cleveland and Houston (53-28, .654) in 2017. The O’s have won 50 road games in a season two times – 52 in 1997 and 50 in 1980. The Orioles have scored 410 runs on the road this year, second-most in the AL and fourth-most in MLB; the 5.54 runs per game away from Oriole Park would be the second-highest mark on the road in O’s history (since 1954) behind 1996 (6.31).

AGAINST HOUSTON: The Orioles and Astros are meeting for the second of two series this season…The Birds dropped two of three games against the ‘Stros from August 8-10 at Camden Yards…The O’s went 4-3 against the Astros last year, including three shutouts.

BIG TIME RUTSCH: Adley Rutschman ranks fifth in the AL with 234 times on base (148 H, 84 BB, 2 HBP), the most by a primary catcher since Milwaukee’s Yasmani Grandal reached safely 240 times (126 H, 109 BB, 5 HBP) in 2019, per STATS…His times on base this are the second-most by a primary catcher in O’s history (since 1954), trailing only Javy López (236 in 2004)…The 84 walks are the second-most by an O’s primary catcher behind Mickey Tettleton (106 in 1990).

PLEASE ALLOW ME TO INTRODUCE MYSELF: On Friday night, Heston Kjerstad led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a homer — his first Major League hit — to break up Zach Eflin’s no-hit bid and put the O’s on the board…He became the 11th player in Orioles history to homer for his first career hit, joining Gunnar Henderson (8/31/22 at CLE), Trey Mancini (9/20/16 vs. BOS), Nick Markakis (4/5/06 vs. TB), Ed Rogers (9/26/05 vs. NYY), José Morban (4/19/03 vs. TB), Calvin Pickering (9/19/98 vs. NYY), Craig Worthington (4/27/88 at MIN), Dan Graham (5/10/80 at MIL), Larry Haney (7/27/66 vs. CLE), and Buster Narum (5/3/63 at DET).

QUICK HITS: Means is scheduled to make his second start of the season, first on the road, and first career start against the Astros tonight…Reinstated from the 60-day Injured List (left elbow UCL surgery) on September 12 and made his 2023 debut later that day vs. St. Louis…Left his start on April 13, 2022 vs. Milwaukee with forearm tightness; was placed on the 10-day IL on April 14 with a left elbow sprain and transferred to the 60-day IL on April 17 with a left elbow strain…Underwent UCL reconstruction surgery (Tommy John) on April 27, performed by Dr. Keith Meister, and missed the rest of the 2022 season…Made 26 starts for the O’s in 2021, pitching to a 6-9 record with a 3.62 ERA (59 ER/146.2 IP) and a 1.03 WHIP…Set career highs with 134 strikeouts and 12 quality starts…Threw the sixth no-hitter in team history on May 5, 2021 at Seattle… Named to his first career All-Star team in 2019, the lone Orioles representative…Was the fifth O’s rookie (since 1954) to be selected to the All-Star team, joining RHP Chuck Estrada (1960), 1B Jim Gentile (1960), INF Ron Hansen (1960), and C Andy Etchebarren (1966)…Finished second in American League Rookie of the Year voting, the first Orioles runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting since 2002 (RHP Rodrigo López)…Originally selected by the Orioles in the 11th round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of West Virginia University.

LAST TIME OUT: Made his 2023 debut in his last outing on September 12 vs. St. Louis… Dealt the loss after surrendering three runs on five hits (2 HR) with one strikeout in 5.0 innings…Was reinstated prior to the game, his first MLB appearance since April 13, 2022 vs. Milwaukee (517 days)…Threw 75 pitches, 55 strikes.

ON THE MEND: Prior to his reinstatement on September 12, Means made six combined rehab starts between Double-A Bowie (3) and Triple-A Norfolk (3), pitching to a 1-1 record and a 3.74 ERA (9 ER/21.2 IP) in those games…In three outings with the Tides, Means went 1-0 with a 2.51 ERA (4 ER/14.1 IP) and 12 strikeouts…Surrendered three earned runs-or-fewer in each of those outings…Did not factor into the decision in his most recent start with Norfolk on September 6 vs. Jacksonville…Permitted three runs on six hits with two walks and four punchouts in 5.0 innings…Threw 67 pitches, 45 strikes.

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM: Is slated to make his first career start against the Astros and 12th career start against the AL West…Houston is the only AL team Means has yet to face in his career…Is 5-3 with a 1.99 ERA (15 ER/68.0 IP), a 0.84 WHIP, eight quality starts, and one complete-game shutout in 11 career outings against the division. LIFE ON THE ROAD: Making his first road start since April 8, 2022 at Tampa Bay, his second straight Opening Day start with the O’s…In 33 career appearances (30 starts) away from Oriole Park, Means is 10-11 with a 3.66 ERA (71 ER/174.2 IP) and 155 strikeouts.

OPENING ACT: Means made his second straight Opening Day start with the O’s on April 8, 2022 at Tampa Bay (4.0 IP, 6 H, R, BB, 5 K)…Became the first O’s hurler to start backto-back Opening Days since Chris Tillman started three straight from 2014-16, and the fourth O’s southpaw to start multiple Opening Days in team history (since 1954), along with Dave McNally (1969-71), Steve Barber (1963, 65-66), and Mike Flanagan (1978, ’86).

HE MEANS BUSINESS: Means threw the sixth no-hitter in Orioles history on May 5, 2021 at Seattle…Marked the first Orioles no-hitter since a combined effort by Bob Milacki, Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson, and Gregg Olson on July 13, 1991 at Oakland, and the first individual no-hitter by an O’s hurler since Jim Palmer on August 13, 1969 vs. Oakland…It was the first complete game of his career, while he became the first southpaw to throw a no-hitter in team history (since 1954)…Means’ only baserunner reached on a dropped third strike, wild pitch, and was later caught stealing by Pedro Severino; according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Means was the first pitcher to throw a non-perfect no-hitter in which the opposing team did not record a walk, hit-by-pitch, or error…His 12 strikeouts were the most by an O’s hurler in a no-hitter and tied a career high (also: 9/20/20 vs. TB)…Became the second pitcher in AL history to toss a no-hitter with 12-plus strikeouts and zero walks, joining Félix Hernández, who worked a perfect game on August 15, 2012…Named the American League Player of the Week on May 10, the first Orioles winner since Trey Mancini on September 23, 2019, and the first Orioles pitcher to accomplish the feat since Arthur Rhodes in August 1994.


TONIGHT’S GAME: The first-place Astros will open their final homestand of the season tonight as they play host to the first-place Orioles, who enter tonight’s game with the top record in the American League…tonight’s pitching matchup is a good one, with future Hall of Famer RHP Justin Verlander starting opposite LHP John Means, who’s making just his second Major League start of the season after returning from elbow surgery.

HOW THE WEST WAS WON: With just 11 games remaining on the schedule, the first-place Astros enter tonight’s game with a 1.5-game lead over the second-place Rangers (82-67) and a 2.5-game lead over the third-place Mariners (81-68)… the Astros have held first place for going on two weeks, since ascending to the top of the division after a win over the Rangers on Sept. 5…the Astros have won the AL West in five straight full seasons (2017-19, 2021-22).

VS. BALTIMORE: The Astros and Orioles are playing their second and final series of the season this week, with Houston currently owning the 2023 advantage two games to one by virtue of a series win in Baltimore from Aug. 8-10…both teams have tons to play for this week, with the Astros still vying for a postseason spot and the Orioles looking to clinch a division title and a subsequent bye in the first round of the postseason…if the season ended today, the Orioles and Astros would rank as the top two seeds in the American League postseason.

ROAD WARRIORS: The Astros have gone 46-29 (.613) on the road, which ranks as the second-best road record in the AL, trailing only the Orioles (48-26)…among AL teams in road games, the Astros lead the AL in runs (436), HR (123), batting average (.268), OBP (.339), SLG (.462) and OPS (.801).

STREAKING ‘STRO: LF Yordan Alvarez has reached base safely in 24 straight games, while hitting .379 (33×87) with a .504 OBP and a 1.194 OPS over that stretch (since Aug. 20)… his streak is the second-longest active streak in the Majors (Elehuris Montero, 25g) and the second-longest of the season for Alvarez (36g from March 30-May 16).

SPREADING THE WEALTH: For just the fifth time in franchise history, the Astros have 10 players on their roster with 10-plus homers for the season (also, 2015, 2017-19)…the 2023 Astros are closing in on tying the franchise record of 11 players with double-digit homers, reached in 2015 and 2017, and need just one homer out of IF/OF Mauricio Dubón to get there…the Astros are one of seven teams in the Majors with 10-plus players with double-digit home run totals.

SEÑOR SCORELESS: RHP Bryan Abreu has not allowed a run in his last 22 appearances (21.2 IP), striking out 24 batters during that span, while going two-for-two in saves and posting eight holds…his streak is the longest active scoreless innings streak in the Majors and the longest by any Astros pitcher this season…this streak ties as the longest of his career, also reached from July 16-Sept. 11, 2022.

STANEK’S PROGRESS: RHP Ryne Stanek, who’s currently on the 15-day IL, threw a bullpen over the weekend at Kauffman Stadium and is scheduled to take PFP on the field today… Stanek is recovering from a sprained right ankle, sustained on Sept. 4 at TEX.

LAST START – 9/12 AT OAK: allowed 5 runs on 8 hits through 7.0 innings while striking out 7 batters without surrendering a walk…has tossed 7.0 innings in back-to-back starts…was his 3rd start this season in which he tossed at least 7.0 innings without issuing a walk.

ABOUT VERLANDER: the future Hall of Famer, 9-time All-Star, 3-time Cy Young Award winner, 2011 AL MVP and 2006 AL Rookie of the Year returned to the Astros rotation in early August after a 3-month stint with the Mets. acquired by Houston on Aug. 1 along with cash considerations in exchange for minor league prospects OF Drew Gilbert and OF Ryan Clifford…marks his second time to be acquired by Houston via trade, which also happened at the waiver trading deadline in 2017…thanks in large part to Verlander, the Astros went on to win the 2017 World Series. has made 8 starts with the Astros, in which he’s gone 5-3 with a 3.86 ERA (21ER/49IP)…
has 4 quality starts in his 8 chances as an Astro.

STRONG STRETCH: his strong stretch spans over his last 15 starts (8 with the Astros)…has gone 9-4 with a 2.76 ERA (23ER/91.1IP) and has held opponents to a .219 (76×347) batting average and a .642 OPS…during that time span, he ranks T-2nd in wins, 7th in the Majors in ERA, 8th in innings and 12th in opponent batting average.

VS. BAL: will be making his 1st appearance of the season vs. the Orioles…last faced them as an Astro in September of last season, tossing 6.0 innings while allowing 2 runs on 6 hits and striking out 4 batters without issuing a walk. has made 6 starts vs. BAL as a member of the Astros, going 1-1 with a 3.03 ERA (11ER/32.2IP) in those outings…the Astros are 4-2 all-time in Verlander’s starts vs. the Orioles.

AT MMP: has been one of the best pitchers in Minute Maid Park’s history, going 31-15 with a 2.62 ERA (118ER/405.2IP) and a .200 opponent’s batting average in 65 career starts at the ballpark…his 2.62 ERA ranks 2nd in Minute Maid Park history (min. 200 IP), trailing only RHP Roger Clemens (2.55 ERA)…his .200 opponent’s batting average ranks 3rd, trailing RHP Gerrit Cole (.178) and RHP Cristian Javier (187)…is set to make his 66th career start at Minute Maid Park, which will surpass RHP Lance McCullers Jr. for 4th all-time, with LHP Dallas Keuchel (91 starts) next on that list.

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