Astros guard against complacency vs. hapless Orioles

A doubleheader Saturday at Camden Yards is not an ideal scenario for the Houston Astros.

The defending World Series champions are steamrolling their way into the postseason and do not need any injuries or pitching issues to get in the way in their quest to win the title again.

Nonetheless, Houston and Baltimore will play a single-admission doubleheader after the game Thursday was postponed because of rain. The nightcap will begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of the opener.

Houston took the opener 2-1 on Friday. The Astros clinched their second straight AL West title on Tuesday. The Astros open a best-of-five Division Series matchup against Cleveland at home on Oct. 5.

Houston manager AJ Hinch wants to make sure his players don’t get complacent against the hapless Orioles.

“I have stressed to them not to get sloppy,” Hinch said. “You don’t want to play like it’s spring training, then have to go back into playoff mode.”

As a result, the series in Baltimore will simply be a tuneup for the postseason.

Justin Verlander (16-9, 2.60 ERA) will start the first game Saturday, looking to boost his chances for the 2018 American League Cy Young Award.

Verlander has a career-high 280 strikeouts and will likely add to the total against the struggling Orioles. Verlander is 10-5 with a 3.75 ERA in 20 starts against Baltimore.

“He’s had some pretty good ones as an Astro,” Hinch said. “When he comes out and sets that kind of tone and gets those swings and misses and the strikeouts, it’s a pretty special day for us.”

Dallas Keuchel (12-11, 2.75 ERA) has already set a career high with 272 strikeouts. The left-hander is 5-0 with a 3.54 ERA with 65 strikeouts in his last seven starts.

In Keuchel’s last outing against Toronto, he picked up his first win since Sept. 3, (12-11) allowing three runs and seven hits in five innings. He also amassed more than 200 innings in a season for the third time in his career.

“It means more to me now than it did the first time,” Keuchel said, alluding to the Astros’ stellar run during the past two years.

Keuchel is 3-2 with 2.80 ERA in seven starts against the Orioles.

Meanwhile, Baltimore is on course to endure the worst season in franchise history

The biggest question facing the Orioles during this final weekend of the season is whether manager Buck Showalter will return to the club in 2019. He was not worried about the uncertainty or expects anyone from the front office to update his status until the final pitch Sunday.

“I’ve got a contract through the end of October, so nobody needs to or has to do that,” Showalter said. “There’s a lot of people in this world like that. Who am I? I mean, really? Is it that important? No.”

For Baltimore, Dylan Bundy will start the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader and Yefry Ramírez will start the nightcap. Bundy (8-16, 5.49 ERA) has struggled in the second half of the season. Ramirez (1-7, 6.07 ERA) is trying to make his case to be part of the rotation in 2019.

Nonetheless, both pitchers will play a part in the Orioles’ rebuild.

“I think in today’s game a lot depends on how quick the young pitching comes,” Showalter said. “You look at what separates the Houstons. You talk about all the things they do on the field and the good position players, but you’ve got three guys throwing 200 innings, it lets you do a lot of things with your bullpen that other people can’t do.

“You try to do it as fast as you can, but you’ve got to do it with your nose down and grind each day and you might be surprised where you stand when those days are behind you.”