The Orioles' four-game series in Houston was akin to a two-act play.
During the first act -- back-to-back low-scoring losses May 29 and 30 -- some Orioles fans were at their wit's end with the team, if not in full-blown panic mode. The Birds' offense put up lifeless performances during both games, scoring one run apiece off Astros starters Brad Peacock and Brett Oberholtzer, neither of whom has pitched well enough to earn a full-time spot in Houston's rotation this year. The Astros, who entered the series with the worst record in the American League, stunned the Birds with late-inning victories during both games, while the O's fell to worse than .500 for the first time since April 22.
The second act, though, brought a more satisfying resolution for the Orioles. The offense began to revive itself during a 4-1 victory May 31, then exploded back to life with a nine-run outburst during the June 1 finale. The Birds' 9-4 win was a rare blowout victory -- it marked the second time during their last 34 games that they've won by five or more runs. The victories salvaged a series split and kept the O's 4.5 games behind the AL East-leading Toronto Blue Jays.
CRUZ STAYS HOT, THEN GETS HIT
While the Orioles' offense had its ups and downs during the series, Nelson Cruz remained on a tear. His RBI single provided the Birds' only run during the May 29 loss, and on May 31, he drove in three of the Orioles' four runs, including a solo homer in the eighth inning -- his 20th of the year.
Cruz leads the majors in homers and RBIs, and his 52 RBIs by the end of May set an Orioles record (surpassing Chris Davis' 50 RBIs by the end of May in 2013). Cruz reached the 20-homer mark during 53 games with the team. For comparison's sake, Orioles Hall of Famer Mark Belanger hit 20 homers during his O's career -- during 1,962 games.
Cruz, though, had to leave the June 1 finale in the third inning, as former Oriole Scott Feldman drilled him in the left hand with a fastball. The good news for the Orioles is that X-rays were negative, so Cruz's hand is bruised rather than broken. He could be ready to return to the lineup after the Orioles' off day June 2.
AN ENIGMATIC LINEUP
Sometimes the Orioles' offense is difficult to explain. During the series opener, the Birds faced Peacock -- who entered the game with 30 walks in 45 innings this year -- and didn't draw a free pass in six innings against him. The following night, they managed one run in seven innings against Oberholtzer, who had returned from a minor league stint May 24 after pitching to an 0-6 record and 5.63 ERA for Houston in April. The O's batted .185 during those two games, which included five scoreless innings by the Astros' bullpen.
During the nine-run series finale, though, several slumping Orioles got back on track. Manny Machado, who was bumped to seventh in the lineup during the first three games, returned to the No. 2 spot June 1 and blasted a sixth-inning grand slam. It was Machado's first-career grand slam.
David Lough, who entered June 1 batting .159 with a .434 OPS, smacked his first home run as an Oriole, a two-run shot off Feldman in the second. Lough went 2-for-3 with three RBIs. And Jonathan Schoop collected three hits June 1 after going 0-for-7 earlier during the series.
A ROTATION REBOUND
The Orioles' starting rotation, which disappointed during the Brewers series May 26-28, carried its weight with four strong outings against the Astros -- though not all were rewarded with a win.
The first three starters -- Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman -- each delivered a quality start, holding the Astros to two or fewer runs. Jimenez ended up with a no-decision May 29, while Gonzalez was saddled with a hard-luck loss May 30. Gonzalez carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but seemed to tire as he neared the 100-pitch mark in the seventh, giving up a pair of runs to give back a 1-0 lead.
Tillman, meanwhile, rebounded from two straight ugly outings -- during which he allowed 14 earned runs in 6.2 innings -- to work 6.2 solid innings May 31, escaping early trouble to walk away with a win. And while June 1 starter Wei-Yin Chen fell short of a quality start, he limited the Astros to one run in 5.1 innings and benefited from the Birds' run support.
A MEDIOCRE MAY
The Orioles settled for a .500 record for the month of May (15-15) after starting the month 8-2. It was their second straight .500 month, after they were 12-12 during April.
Some fans might've expected the Orioles to fare better during May, as the Birds played multiple series against middling or bad teams such as the Astros, Twins, Pirates and Royals. But May wasn't as easy a schedule as it might appear at first glance. The O's played 30 games during the month's 31 days, with 18 on the road and 12 at home -- the highest number of road games for any month this season. Winning on the road is no easy task for any team, even against losing clubs.
The Birds will have a chance to make up for their so-so May record with a home-heavy June schedule -- they'll play 18 games in Baltimore (their most of any month), all within a 24-day span. First, though, they'll wrap up their current 10-game road trip with three at the Texas Rangers June 3-5.