(Photo credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
The Orioles' offense again carried the weight on Tuesday, covering for occasionally spotty pitching and surprisingly erratic defense in Baltimore's 9-5 road victory over the Houston Astros that clinched the three-game series.
Baltimore will aim to sweep the set involving American League divisionleaders during a Wednesday matinee.
The Orioles (95-56) maintained their 2 1/2-game lead in the AL East over the Tampa Bay Rays in part by bashing four home runs -- two from Austin Hays. Ryan O'Hearn and rookie Heston Kjerstad also homered for the Orioles, who benefitted from a critical safety squeeze by catcher James McCann to key a two-run sixth inning.
"We didn't play our best baseball," Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said. "We kicked a couple of balls that hurt us a little bit. We don't usually beat ourselves, but our offense picked us up. We did some good things."
Kyle Bradish (11-7, 3.12 ERA) will start for the Orioles on Wednesday. The right-hander took his first loss since July 26 on Thursday against the Rays after allowing four runs on seven hits with five strikeouts over seven innings. It marked his sixth consecutive start of at least six innings and his 13th in 14 outings dating back to June 25.
Bradish is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA over two career starts against the Astros. He worked eight scoreless innings against Houston on Aug. 26, 2022, then delivered another 8 2/3 shutout frames vs. the Astros on Sept. 22, 2022. Bradish yielded just four hits and two walks while striking out 16 in those outings.
Right-hander Cristian Javier (9-4, 4.74 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Astros.
He is winless over his past four starts, going 0-2 with a 6.16 ERA in that span. Javier took a 4-2 road loss to the Kansas City Royals on Friday when he allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits and one walk with six strikeouts over five innings.
Javier went 2-0 over five starts in August despite pitching to a 6.17 ERA and .922 opponents' OPS with 16 walks and 16 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings.
Javier is 1-1 with a 2.04 ERA over five career appearances (two starts) against the Orioles. In his lone appearance against Baltimore this year, he allowed two runs on four hits and three walks with three strikeouts over five innings in an 8-2 road victory on Aug. 9.
A late-season collapse at home might ultimately cost the Astros a postseason berth. With the Tuesday loss, Houston (84-68) had its lead in the AL West shaved to a half-game over both the Texas Rangers (83-68) and the Seattle Mariners (83-68).
The Astros dropped to 38-39 at home with four games left on the home schedule.
On Sept. 11, Houston entered a stretch with nine of 12 games against the two worst teams in the majors, the Oakland A's and the Royals. The Astros have won just two of eight games since.
"We've got four games here left to figure it out," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "I don't know exactly what it is. We've tried to put our finger on it, and we don't know."
--Field Level Media