Orioles hope for more diversified offense vs. Astros

HOUSTON -- There was a clear theme developing from the Baltimore Orioles' clubhouse in the aftermath of their fourth consecutive loss Wednesday, the last three coming at home to the American League Central-leading Minnesota Twins.

The Orioles, power-hitting juggernauts under manager Buck Showalter, have been a bit too reliant on the home run of late. Baltimore (25-20) has ranked no lower than fourth in the AL in home runs under Showalter, averaging 216.8 between 2011-16 while pacing the league in long balls three times during that span.

During their skid, the Orioles have clubbed five home runs -- four coming with the bases empty. Baltimore, third in the majors this season batting .311 with runners in scoring position, is 4-for-20 in that situation over the past four games.

After an off day on Thursday, the Orioles now must contend with the Houston Astros, as the teams open a three-game series Friday at Minute Maid Park.

"We're getting ready to play (an opponent) that's probably the best, so we knew the schedule was going to be tough, but it's the big leagues and you've got to beat those guys," Showalter said of the Astros. "Offensively, it's kind of been boom or bust, and that's a challenge."

Said Orioles first baseman Chris Davis: "Either boom or bust, it's kind of obvious we're scoring runs by home runs or not scoring runs at all. It's tough to win games when you don't swing the bats well, but we'll put it behind us ... get a little bit of rest and get after them in Houston."

Right-hander Kevin Gausman (2-3, 6.65 ERA) starts for the Orioles in the series opener. Gausman has only one win over his past seven starts, posting an 8.04 ERA during that stretch. Opponents have a .906 OPS against Gausman, who is 1-1 with a 6.17 ERA against the Astros in two career starts.

Right-hander Joe Musgrove (3-4, 5.63 ERA) takes the ball for the Astros. Musgrove faced the Orioles once previously, allowing eight runs on 11 hits and one walk with two strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings in a 13-5 road defeat Aug. 18, 2016.

After posting consecutive wins over the Atlanta Braves and Miami Marlins, Musgrove recorded only nine outs in an 8-6 loss to the Indians on Sunday. The seven earned runs he allowed were second only to the eight he permitted in his loss at Baltimore last season.

While taking three of four games from the Detroit Tigers, the Astros (32-16) exhausted their reliable bullpen. Over the past five games, Houston has received more than 15 outs from a starting pitcher only once.

"It's not ideal," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "The starters, they all want to go six and seven innings; obviously, everybody wants to go nine if you can. We've asked a lot out of our bullpen, and it's always been in trying to win games. We won a series that way. I don't know that you can sustain that for too long a time before you get a little bit of fatigue in there. We asked a lot of these guys.

"Our starters will pick up a little bit and get their fair share of outs. It just hasn't been the best week for them to get deep into games."
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