HOUSTON — For the first 45 games of this season, the Orioles occupied one of the top two spots in the American League East standings. But after their 2-0 loss to the Houston Astros on Friday night at Minute Maid Park, the Orioles found themselves in an unfamiliar place: Third in the division.
The reeling Orioles -- who were 12 games above .500 and owned the best record in baseball just 17 days ago -- are now closer to fourth place in the division than first. It's just one indicator of how much the Orioles have struggled of late, losers of five straight and 11 of 14. They are 4-11 in their past 15 road games.
Extending the frustration is how close the losses have been. Fifteen of the Orioles' past 16 games have been decided by two runs or fewer, and 11 of their past 12 losses have been decided by two runs or less.
Astros starter Joe Musgrove (4-4), who entered the night with a 5.63 ERA and was coming off an outing in which he allowed seven runs over three innings, held the Orioles scoreless for seven innings. The Orioles managed just four hits off Musgrove.
"I'm not going to state the obvious," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Everybody in our clubhouse knows that it's been a challenge for us here lately, but they pitched well. I think the guy threw 58 out of 102 pitches were off-speed pitches and we just didn't make a lot of adjustments. You've got to tip your hat to them."
Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman (2-4) pitched his third quality start in his past four outings, the only damage done against him being two solo homers.
Four of the Orioles' seven hits were doubles, all of which came with less than two outs in an inning. But the Orioles (25-21) were a combined 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position after opening the game hitless in their first seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"Nobody's panicking now," second baseman Jonathan Schoop said. "Even though we're not winning, we're playing good baseball. We play good baseball, playing good defense. Things aren't going our way right now. We got our chances and we didn't come through, but it will change."
The first six hitters in the Orioles' batting order were a combined 2-for-24 with seven strikeouts.
The Orioles had their scoring opportunities late, loading the bases with no outs against right-hander Chris Devenski in the eighth inning, but failed to score a run.
After Hyun Soo Kim opened the inning with a double, Schoop reached on an infield single and J.J. Hardy loaded the bases on a bunt single.
But the Orioles couldn't bring a single runner home with the top of the order up. Seth Smith struck out for the fourth time on the night, Adam Jones hit a fly ball to left that wasn't deep enough to score Kim from third and Manny Machado sent a first-pitch delivery to the warning track in right to end the inning.
Orioles can't capitalize
The Orioles receive one-out doubles in both the third and fourth innings Friday, but couldn't score in either frame against Musgrove.
Schoop just missed a home run on his line drive off the left-center field wall in the third, but Hardy and Smith struck out to end the inning.
In the fourth, Machado doubled down the left-field line with one out, but Chris Davis struck out looking and Mark Trumbo flied out to right.
Machado doubled into left-center field to lead off the seventh, but Musgrove retired the next three hitters to escape that jam.
The Orioles also ran themselves out of a promising inning in the sixth when Hardy reached on an infield single, but was doubled up attempting to steal second after Smith struck out.
"He was commanding his cutter and same with his slider," Schoop said of Musgrove. "He was good today. He commanding his fastball and everything was working his way."
Gausman dodges damage
Gausman limited the Astros to one run in the third inning, the only damage coming on No. 9 hitter Jake Marisnick's solo homer to left. But Gausman paid the price of needing 33 pitches to get through the inning.
Gausman endured three counts of six or more pitches, and the Astros fouled 10 pitches in the frame to get his pitch count up.
Gausman had been dominating relying on his fastball – and got ahead of Marisnick 0-2 on a three fastballs before the center fielder tattooed a slider an estimated 428 feet onto the train tracks high above the left-field concourse of Minute Maid Park.
An error by Schoop, who dropped the ball on a double-play turn at second base, extended the inning by 13 more pitches.
Gausman relied heavily on the fastball through his first three innings, throwing the pitch 81.67 percent of the time (49 of 60 pitches), and drew the only 11 called strikes and only three swing-and-miss strikes with the fastball.
"He pitched well," Showalter said of Gausman. "He gave us a great chance to win, but their guys did a little bit better."
Gausman controlled his pitch count enough to manage to get into the seventh. He allowed eight hits on the night, but the only other runner to score was Carlos Beltran, who hit a 2-1 fastball into the right-field seats an estimated 400 feet with two outs in the sixth.
"Beltran, trying to throw a fastball up and kind of left it middle of the plate and he's obviously been around for I don't know how long, but a long time, and he doesn't miss those pitches," Gausman said. "Marisnick, trying to bury a slider, especially with two strikes and just kind of left it center cut."