Opposite dugout: Astros come to Camden Yards for playoff tune-up

AstrosLogo.jpgManager: AJ Hinch (4th season)

Record: 100-58

Last 10 games: 7-3

Who to watch: 2B Jose Altuve (.318/385/.451, 17 SB), 3B Alex Bregman (51 2B, 31HR, 103 RBIs), 1B Yuli Gurriel (.291/.323/.430), CF George Springer (62 BB), RHP Justin Verlander (2.60 ERA), RHP Roberto Osuna (20 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 3-0

Pitching probables:

Sept. 27: RHP Gerrit Cole (15-5) vs. RHP David Hess (3-10), 7:05 p.m., MASN
Sept. 28: RHP Justin Verlander (16-9) RHP Yefry Ramírez (1-7), 7:05 p.m., MASN
Sept. 29: TBA vs. RHP Dylan Bundy (8-16), 7:05 p.m., MASN
Sept. 30: TBA vs. TBA, 3:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Astros:

The defending World Series champs have spent much of the 2018 season trying to keep the pesky Athletics out of their space atop the American League West. With the division now clinched, the 100-win mark achieved and the No. 2 seed in the American League secured, the Astros can throttle back as they come into Camden Yards, and can spend this four-game series tuning up and getting their rotation and bullpen aligned as they’d like for the start of the American League Division Series next weekend.

Center fielder George Springer, the Astros’ usual leadoff batter, has been hot in September, slashing .337/.389/.446. He’s a career .344 hitter against Orioles pitching and at Oriole Park has posted a slash line of .386/.426/.667. No. 2 hitter and reigning MVP Jose Altuve has had a disappointing month. In serious contention for the batting title for much of the season, the Astros second baseman has cooled since late August. He, too, has feasted on O’s pitching, especially at Camden Yards, where he’s gone 29-for-66 (.439) over his career. Third baseman Alex Bregman, a first-time All-Star this year in his second full season in the majors, leads the Astros in bases on balls, home runs and extra-base hits. Catcher/designated hitter Evan Gattis, who has 25 homers this season, also poses a longball threat. Shortstop Carlos Correa, sidelined with bad back for more than a week, returned to action as designated hitter for yesterday’s series finale in Toronto. First baseman Yuli Gurriel comes into the Baltimore series on a hitting binge. He’s gone 21-for-49 (.429) over his past 12 games with three homers and 15 RBIs.

All-Star right-hander Gerrit Cole (2.92 ERA) starts the series opener for the Astros. In none of his 31 starts this year has he gone fewer than five innings, and he logged a complete-game shutout of the Diamondbacks in May. Cole has won his last two starts, four out of his last five and five of his last seven. He last took a loss Aug. 10, after going 7 1/3 innings against the Mariners. And Cole’s not even the Astros’ ace. That would be righty Justin Verlander (2.60). The seven-time All-Star - who returned to the Midsummer Classic this year after an absence of four seasons - is scheduled to get the start tomorrow. Like Cole, Verlander has been an innings-eater for the Astros. He’s gone no fewer than five innings in a start, and also has a complete-game shutout to his credit this year. He’s got three victories in September, and went six innings scoreless in his most recent start. The Astros have not yet named starters for Saturday and Sunday. If they continue with their regular rotation, we’ll see lefty Dallas Keuchel (12-11, 3.75), who has given up a career-high 206 hits this season, on Saturday. Right-hander Charlie Morton (15-3, 3.18) was originally scheduled to work Friday’s game, but manager AJ Hinch reshuffled his starters after Morton left his last outing with a barking shoulder, which had him on the disabled list a month ago.

The Astros own the majors’ best bullpen ERA (3.00). Héctor Rondón (3.26) began the season as the closer, but went to the setup slot soon after the Astros made a deal at the non-waiver trade deadline to bring Roberto Osuna (2.43) from the Blue Jays. Osuna has gone 11-for-11 in saves for the Astros.

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