Astros-Orioles preview

BALTIMORE-- The Baltimore Orioles are hoping to fare a little better than the last time when they take on Houston Thursday in the start of a four-game series.

The Astros swept the Orioles in a three-game series in Houston back in May, holding the potent Baltimore lineup to just seven runs and scoring two one-run victories and a two-run decision.

Baltimore (66-53) is in the midst of a three-team battle in the American League East and needs to find some success against Houston. The Orioles are just 3-7 versus the Astros over the past two years.

In addition, the Orioles are trying to bounce back after being swept at home by a hot Boston team. The Red Sox scored 13 runs in two nights and moved into second place in the American League East, one game behind Toronto and one game ahead of the Orioles, with the rain-shortened 8-1 victory over Baltimore on Wednesday.

"They've got a lot of good hitters, and it's tough to hold them down," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

The Orioles have experienced more troubles with their pitching in the last two weeks. During that time, the starters and bullpen can't seem to pitch well at the same time, and the mistakes have come more often.

"When guys are hot, mistakes are something they live on, so being able to execute quality pitches is (important)," catcher Matt Wieters said. "Good pitching is going to beat good hitting most times if you're able to make quality pitching."

Right-hander Kevin Gausman (3-10, 4.04 ERA) is trying to do what Wieters talked about. He's been inconsistent throughout the season. His last start is an example of the up-and-down performances he's turned in.

Gausman gave up two runs on two hits in San Francisco Saturday and struck out nine -- but walked six and lasted just four innings, taking the loss in a 6-2 defeat.

Right now, the Orioles are trying to bounce back after losing both games to Boston at home.

"Thankfully it was only a two-games series," said Chris Davis. "We still have a lot of time left, so we'll regroup and get after it tomorrow."

The Astros (61-59) have stumbled a bit recently, losing their fourth straight Wednesday, 8-2 to St. Louis, but remain in the fight for the Wild Card. They'll have a bunch of road games in a tough schedule but manager A.J. Hinch said his team will keep fighting.

"With the way the American League is shaping up, the next six weeks are going to be incredible," Hinch said to "It makes for a jumbled mess to where you realize all you need to focus on is winning your next game and win as many games as you can. It's probably going to take in the upper 80s (in wins) to get into the playoffs, so until you get close to that number, it's pretty much a moot point."

Houston right-hander Joe Musgrove will be making his fourth major league appearance and third start. Musgrove (1-0, 1.47) earned his first win in last Friday's 5-3 victory over Toronto.

The rookie, who made his major league debut on Aug. 2 versus the Jays, gave up two runs on six hits in seven innings last Friday in the win.

He also struck out seven with just one walk. So far, Musgrove's struck out 21 with just two walks in his first 18 1/3 innings.