The Houston factor

The Orioles begin a four-game series tonight and 11-game road trip against the Oakland A's. The A's have a 13-9 record while the Orioles are 12-9.

But while Oakland has lost five of its last six games in series against Tampa Bay and Boston, Oakland has gone 6-0 against the Houston Astros who are in their first season in the American League.

Later this year it could be that the Orioles will be battling with Oakland for a wild-card berth. This season the A's will play Houston 19 times and the Orioles will play the Astros six times. Could that 13-game schedule disparity make the difference and put Oakland over the top in a battle for the playoffs against the Orioles?

It could and this was a big reason some analysts felt it would be hard for the AL East to produce even one wild-card team this season. Call it the Houston factor.

After all, Oakland is 6-0 against Houston and 7-9 against everyone else including a 1-5 mark vs. the AL East. The Orioles are 0-0 vs. Houston and 9-6 against the AL East.

By the way, the Orioles went 4-5 against Oakland last season but, over the last five years, they are 12-27 vs. Oakland and 3-16 at Oakland.

The schedule can make the difference. For many years the AL East winner was New York or Boston and they would win 95 to 100 games with the help of doormats at the bottom of the division in Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Now it appears the division winner this year may not compile as many wins with five decent or better teams in the East.

The West is strong too with Texas, Oakland and Los Angeles even though the Angels have started under .500. Seattle could turn out to be improved team too.

But Houston has the worst AL record right now at 7-14 and the West clubs will get to beat up on them some this year. In the end that could make the difference in a close wild-card race later.

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