O's game blog: The road trip begins in Houston

The Orioles lead the American League East by two games, plus hold the playoff tiebreaker over the Tampa Bay Rays with 13 games to play. They begin the last regular season road trip tonight at Houston in a matchup of AL division leaders and a possible playoff preview.

The Orioles (93-56) will play three games this week at Houston and then four at Cleveland. They then return home to wrap up the regular season with two games versus Washington and four against Boston. 

Both best-of-three AL wild card series begin Oct. 3 and both of the best-of-five AL division series start Oct. 7. The American League Championship Series starts Oct. 15 and the 2023 World Series begins Friday, Oct. 27. If the Fall Classic goes seven games, it will end on Saturday, Nov. 4.

The Birds won the final two games of the Tampa Bay series by a combined 13-4 score to win the season series 8-5 over the Rays. It's the first time the O's have taken a season series from Tampa Bay since 2016. The Orioles played four series this year versus the Rays and didn't lose any of them, going 2-1, 1-1, 3-1 and 2-2.

In the eight games this year between those teams decided by one or two runs, the Orioles went 7-1.

The Orioles, who need a finish of 7-6 or better to have a 100-win season, have won 10 of the last 15 games, 16 of 24, 19 of 28 and 22 of the last 33 games.

Sunday they clinched the 14th postseason berth in team history and first since the 2016 season.

According to Stats Perform, prior to 2021, the Astros were 20-6 at home against the Orioles, but Baltimore is 5-1 in the last two series at Minute Maid Park. The Orioles held Houston to a .198 batting average and 2.7 runs per game in those six games.

The Orioles need to finish 5-2 or better on this road trip to produce the best road record in O's team history. The records, according to Stats Perform:

2023 - 48-26 (.649)

1997 - 52-29 (.642)

1980 - 50-31 (.617)

1994 - 35-22 (.614)

Entering 2023, the Orioles had a losing record on the road in eight consecutive seasons, tied with the Los Angeles Angels for longest streak among AL teams coming into the year.

Houston (84-66) leads the AL West by 1 1/2 games over Texas and by 2 1/2 games over Seattle. Houston plays three games at Seattle beginning a week from tonight. The Astros have lost their past two series, losing two of three each against Oakland and Kansas City.

Houston is 38-37 at home and 15-15 against AL East teams. They are 12-11 since Aug. 23 and beat the O's two of three in Baltimore from Aug. 8-10.

Lefty John Means (0-1, 5.40 ERA) will make his second start of the year tonight. He went five innings in his return to the Orioles on Tuesday against St. Louis, allowing five hits, three runs and two homers on 75 pitches, 55 for strikes. It was his first major league game since April 13, 2022.

Means had pitched in six rehab games leading up to that start, three each for Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk. He went 1-1 with a 3.74 ERA over 21 2/3 innings. With the Tides only, he went 1-0 with a 2.51 ERA, allowing four earned runs in 14 1/3 innings and logging six walks, 12 strikeouts and a .216 batting average against.

His mound opponent in the series opener is right-hander Justin Verlander (11-8, 3.39 ERA), a three-time AL Cy Young Award winner and two-time AL ERA leader.

Verlander signed as a free agent with the New York Mets last December and agreed to a two-year deal worth $86.7 million that included a vesting option for $35 million in 2025. Then the Mets traded him to Houston Aug. 1 for the Astros' No. 1 and No. 4 prospects amid rumors the O's were also pursuing a Verlander deal.

Verlander, who turned 40 in February, had a 2.79 ERA in his first five Houston starts. But in his past three he has had games in which he's allowed six and five runs and has a 5.40 ERA, allowing seven homers in 20 innings.

In 24 career starts against the Orioles, he is 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.179 WHIP.

The Orioles magic number is now 10 to clinch the AL East. Houston's magic number is seven to clinch a playoff berth and 11 for the AL West title. 

Means holds Astros to one run, Mullins hits go-ahe...
Pregame Orioles notes on yesterday's celebration, ...

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