The Orioles are swept by the Astros. (Eduardo A. Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
HOUSTON — The Orioles won’t see the defending World Series champion Houston Astros again until the final series of the regular season, and after being swept out of Minute Maid Park with a 3-2 loss on Wednesday afternoon, they had already seen enough.
For the first two nights in Houston, the Orioles indulged two pregame ceremonies, a championship banner unveiling Monday and ring ceremony Tuesday. Without all the hoopla, the Orioles played their most competitive game of the series Wednesday, but still dropped their fifth straight game.
The Orioles (1-5) have been swept in their past three trips to Minute Maid Park, and left Houston having not won a game there since June 4, 2015.
Their schedule doesn’t get much more forgiving. The Orioles left Texas for a four-game set at Yankee Stadium, where they lost eight of 10 games last season, as part of facing four playoff teams in their first five series.
“It’s really tough, this schedule,” second baseman Jonathan Schoop said. “But it’s tough for them, too, because they have to face us. We’re good, too. We’ve just got to go out there and grind and play hard and try to win.”
It is just six games into the season, but the Orioles are off to their worst start since 2010, when they opened 1-11. That’s not to say such a start signals doom. They opened the 2014 season 2-4 and won the American League East and came within four wins of playing in the World Series.
“I think we’re all good,” said right-hander Dylan Bundy, who recorded his second quality start in as many starts this season. “We’re six games in? So, yeah it’s definitely not the start we wanted. Or what we’re used to. But it’s baseball. We have to keep going out there every day and play the way we know how to play.”
For the second straight game, the Orioles took a tie game into the bottom the seventh inning, but on Wednesday, right-hander Miguel Castro was bit by a one-out walk that eventually scored.
Castro, already working his third relief appearance of the season, walked Derek Fisher with one out. Fisher stole second one batter later and came around to score on Alex Bregman’s single to left.
“That is kind of the difference,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of the Astros’ late-inning clutch hits. “We had some opportunities in a couple of games to do that and haven’t been able to draw on that.”
On a day in which the Orioles received another strong performance from Bundy — who allowed two runs (one earned) over six innings while striking out eight, his only earned run in 13 innings this season — the team’s offense flubbed some early chances to break the game open.
The Orioles offense, which broke out for six runs Tuesday to surpass its output for the team’s first four games combined, couldn’t take advantage of an off-tilt outing by 2015 Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, who walked four batters and labored into some deep counts.
The Orioles put multiple runners on base in four of Keuchel’s five innings, but managed just two runs.
“We got on base,” Schoop said. “We didn’t score early too often, but they’re a really good team over there. We left them out there. That’s all you can do sometimes. We left them out there. Today is passed already. We need to forget about today and try to go to New York and win the series.”
Both of the Orioles’ runs were scored by runners who reached base to open the inning, but the offense couldn’t sustain any big inning. An offense built around power and designed to produce runs in bunches hasn’t. Through 56 innings this season, they’ve scored more than one run in just three frames.
They worked Keuchel early, putting two of their first three batters on for runners at the corners. José Altuve lost Adam Jones’ pop fly in the sun, but was still able to get a force out at second base while allowing a run to score. After a single by Trey Mancini put two runners on again, Danny Valencia struck out to end the inning.
In the third, Schoop and Jones worked back-to-back two-out walks against Keuchel, but Mancini grounded out on the first pitch he saw to end the inning.
The Orioles put the leadoff man on against Keuchel in both the fourth and fifth, but their only run in those innings came when Marwin González threw away a double-play turn that could have ended the inning. The fifth-inning leadoff single was erased by a 5-4-3 double play off the bat of Jones.
On the day, the Orioles were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
“Our guys did a great job of grinding [Keuchel],” Showalter said. “What’d he walk, four guys? Something like that. Lot of times, you go back through his outings. He’ll throw a lot of pitches that would have been balls, but he does a great job of having pitches appear strikes but leave the zone. Our guys really grinded through. We couldn’t get that hit, and that’s a tribute to him. He kept us from really opening up a little bit and kept them in the game.”