Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop is quietly having a great rookie season with critical hits that have won several games. Though he is batting a mere .235, many of his 24 hits have been crucial to Orioles victories, including his tie-breaking RBI single in the bottom of the seventh last evening that made a winner of Wei-Yin Chen.
The Orioles have enjoyed particularly good success this year when the bottom third of the order contributes well to the offensive effort. That is probably a somewhat universally true statement for any team, but is especially true for a squad like the Orioles with so much power at the top and middle of the lineup.
Schoop not only drove in J.J. Hardy who had opened the inning with a ground-rule double, he did so with two outs. And then Nick Markakis brought Schoop home in what would prove to be the winning run in the 4-3 win.
Tommy Hunter had his classic “textbook” close – double, walk with steal of third, double play with run scoring, strikeout … what’s to worry about? Plenty for the ninth inning in my view, though if Manny Machado and Steve Pearce, etc. can daily hit homers as they did last evening, the final inning will be less critical.
In any event, the Baltimore Orioles can celebrate holding on to first place with a 19-14 record.
Without doubt, the Astros are the doormat of the league, but Scott Feldman is their best starter. So it was good for the Orioles to get past him with a win in the opener of the three-day series.
Tonight the Orioles will be facing the relatively unknown Collin McHugh. The young pitcher has not yet faced the Birds, but he looks like a good prospect after his first three starts on this season. He is 2-1 with a 2.79 ERA in 19.1 innings. For his career, this is his 12th start, where he has a 7.16 ERA – so this is quite an improvement of late.
Miguel Gonzalez will be making his third career start against the Astros. He is 1-1, but the numbers for those starts are not good, though they probably tell little about what to expect for this evening.
Gonzalez is at this point the most struggling of Orioles starters in terms of getting deep into games. In six starts, he has only twice completed six innings. He is 1-3 with a 5.28 ERA. When precisely placing his pitches and skillfully mixing them, he can be very effective; but his margin for error is rather narrow, especially after the fourth inning. I am increasingly thinking Gonzalez may be destined for a role as a long man / multi-innings reliever.
There is not an extensive history of Astros hitters against Gonzalez, though Jason Castro is 4-for-5 and Matt Dominquez 3-for-4.