Cole goes for sixth straight win as Astros take on O’s

BALTIMORE–The defending World Series champion Houston Astros close the 2018 season with a trip to Baltimore this weekend, and the first game of their four-game series with the Orioles is set for Thursday at 7:05 p.m. ET at Camden Yards.

Houston already has clinched the American League West and will play the Indians in the Division Series. That starts on Oct. 5, and the Astros get home-field advantage there.

The only time Houston would not hold the home-field advantage is if it meets Boston in the AL Championship Series as the Red Sox already have that locked up.

David Hess (3-10, 5.14 ERA) will start for the Orioles versus Houston right-hander Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.92) on Thursday.

Cole has given an already-strong Astros’ starting staff even more punch this season. He has won five in a row and last lost on Aug. 10. This will be the first time Cole has pitched against the Orioles this season — and in fact, he’s never gone against Baltimore in his career.

Hess has been up and down during this rookie season. The right-hander has gone 1-5 in the past two months but pitched effectively on several occasions.

This will be the first time he’s ever pitched against the Astros.

Houston (100-58) is coming off of a 3-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday in a game that really meant nothing. The Astros actually clinched the division total very early Wednesday morning when Oakland lost to Seattle.

However, Houston officially celebrated in the locker room after the loss in Toronto, and now will prepare for this four-game series in Baltimore that really holds little meaning except that the Astros want to go into the playoffs on a good note.

“We’re the only team that can repeat, and our team needs to know that,” Houston manager AJ Hinch told reporters. “It’s important for us to have our moment and lock back in. In a week, we’re going to play real baseball.”

Baltimore is starting the final series of an historically poor season. To make matters worse, the Orioles have run out of pitchers at times, especially in the starting rotation, which is a big reason they went with a committee approach in Wednesday’s day-night doubleheader in Boston.

Plus, most of the pitchers Baltimore is using do not have a lot of major league experience and are being hit hard as they get used to life at this level.

“There are better days ahead for those guys,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of the young pitchers. “But it’s a tough learning curve. (However) it’s never as bad as it seems or as good as it seems.”

The Orioles are coming into this series after splitting a day-night doubleheader in Boston on Wednesday. Boston crushed Baltimore 19-3 in the first game — the biggest margin of defeat the Orioles (46-112) have suffered in this forgetful season.

However, Baltimore bounced back and pulled out a 10-3 victory in the nightcap, thanks to seven runs in the final three innings.