Opposite dugout: First-place Astros aim to continue dominance over Orioles

AstrosLogo.jpgManager: A.J. Hinch (3rd season)

Record: 32-16

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: 2B Jose Altuve (.298/.367/.494 with 7 HR, 22 RBIs, 9 SB), RF Josh Reddick (.281 with 6 HR, 20 RBIs), LF Marwin Gonzalez (11 HR, 28 RBIs), LHP Dallas Keuchel (7-0, 1.84 ERA, 0.864 WHIP), RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (5-1, 2.43 ERA), RHP Ken Giles (3.26 ERA, 13 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (6-1 in 2016)

Pitching probables:

May 26: RHP Kevin Gausman vs. RHP Joe Musgrove, 8:10 p.m., MASN2
May 27: LHP Wade Miley vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel, 7:15 p.m., FOX
May 28: RHP Ubaldo Jiménez vs. RHP Lance McCullers Jr., 2:10 p.m., MASN2

Inside the Astros:

Traveling to Houston to face a first-place Astros team may be one of the last things the Orioles want to do to try to break out of their recent 3-10 slump. Or perhaps they embrace the challenge, a sort of "you have to beat the best to be the best" type thing. Either way, they'll be going up against an Astros club that is also trying to shake a recent funk.

Although the Astros have the major leagues' best record (32-16) and the largest division lead in the majors - an eight-game advantage over the Rangers in the American League West - they come into this series looking for a strong finish to a 10-game homestand after starting with a sweep at the hands of the Indians. And Houston may be champing at the bit to face the O's: The Astros won six of seven games against the Birds in 2016. On May 24-26 in Houston, the Astros swept the Orioles while setting a major league record by striking O's batters out 52 times over a three-game series. And then after the Orioles won the first game of a four-game set in Baltimore, the Astros went on to win the next three, outscoring the O's 32-13.

The Astros offense is still led by the names they have come to learn and love in Houston. Second baseman Jose Altuve leads the team slashing .298/.367/.494, while mustering seven home runs and 22 RBIs and swiping nine bags. Shortstop Carlos Correa is hitting .288 with seven homers and 26 RBIs, while left fielder Marwin Gonzalez leads the team with 11 longballs and 28 RBIs. Center fielder George Springer has added nine homers and 24 RBIs but is only hitting .231. As for new faces, right fielder Josh Reddick is hitting .281 with 20 RBIs, and former Yankees catcher Brian McCann is expected to return from the seven-day concussion disabled list Saturday, bringing a .269 average and 25 RBIs.

Speaking of coming off the DL on Saturday, lefty ace Dallas Keuchel should be ready to be reinstated to start Saturday's nationally televised game on FOX after a pinched nerve in his neck kept him sidelined since May 16. The former American League Cy Young Award winner is 7-0 with a 1.84 ERA (second-best in baseball) and an 0.864 WHIP (fourth-best in the majors). He has quality starts in seven of his nine outings this season and pitched eight innings of two-run ball against the Orioles last year. Right-hander Joe Musgrove will get the ball for Friday's series opener. The 24-year-old only is 3-4 with a 5.63 ERA and has two quality starts in his nine outings so far. Musgrove was the starter in the lone game the Astros lost to the Orioles last year, and gave up eight runs on 11 hits in just 5 1/3 innings at Camden Yards. Lance McCullers Jr. brings his 5-1 record and 2.43 ERA to Sunday's finale at Minute Maid Park. McCullers has not allowed a run in his last three outings, but only pitched six, six and five innings in those three games. He is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in two career starts against the Orioles.

The Astros bullpen ranks fifth in the AL with a 3.32 ERA. Right-hander Will Harris is posting a 2.61 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with 10 holds, while righty closer Ken Giles has a 3.26 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 13 saves. Giles' ERA doesn't look too strong, but he comes up big in save opportunities. Five of the seven runs he's allowed this season have come in non-save situations. In save situations, he's converted 13 of 14, including six straight. Giles has allowed just two runs, eight hits and three walks while striking out 15 over his last 14 1/3 innings.

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