Nelson Cruz may be baseball's hottest hitter. But his Baltimore Orioles will be pitted against one of the majors' hottest offenses Thursday night when they visit the Houston Astros in the opener of a four-game set.
Cruz continued his impressive exploits Wednesday against Milwaukee, hitting his major league-leading 18th and 19th homers - both solo shots - to extend his hitting streak to nine games. He's slugging a baseball-leading 1.000 over his last 14 games with 18 RBIs.
However, Cruz's excellence hasn't necessarily come with success for the Orioles (26-25). They're 6-8 in that same span, taking an 8-3 loss to the Brewers on Wednesday.
"Nellie, he's a perennial hitter," said Bud Norris, who was charged with four runs over six innings. "We've seen him for years in other leagues and everything else, but to have him over here in Baltimore's been outstanding."
Houston (22-32) is benefiting from a number of hot bats during a five-game winning streak, totaling 34 runs while recording at least 11 hits in each game. They had totaled just six runs while losing their four previous contests.
Jose Altuve is 33 for 82 (.402) while hitting safely in 19 of 20, while George Springer is batting .405 during a 10-game hitting streak with six homers and 13 RBIs in his last six games.
Springer set a franchise rookie record with his ninth home run this month and Chris Carter went deep twice in Wednesday's 9-3 win at Kansas City, completing the club's first three-game sweep of the season.
"Our offense is better," said Carter, who had been benched for three straight games after going 4 for 25 over his last seven contests before Wednesday. "It's been coming around really good. George has six home runs in six games. I'm happy for him. I think we have something going here.''
A sixth straight win would match the Astros' longest streak from the last three seasons. They won six in a row from May 29-June 3 of last year.
They'll try to exploit a struggling Baltimore starting rotation, which owns an 8.06 ERA over its last 10 games with its starters going more than six innings just once. Those woes may not end with Ubaldo Jimenez (2-6, 4.98 ERA) on the mound, though he has been strong against Houston.
Jimenez has surrendered 10 runs over nine innings while losing his last two starts. He also matched a season-worst by walking five in his last start, while yielding four hits over four-plus innings of a 9-0 defeat to Cleveland on Saturday.
The right-hander, however, is 3-0 with a 1.63 ERA over his last six matchups with the Astros.
Houston will give the ball to Brad Peacock (1-4, 5.20 ERA), who was scheduled to start Friday at Seattle before being scratched due to stiffness in his forearm. He had a bullpen session Saturday without issue.
"I felt awesome," Peacock told the team's official website. "It went really good. I was throwing everything, so I feel back to normal."
Peacock, who has never faced the Orioles, won for the first time in eight starts on May 18, allowing two runs and five hits over 6 2-3 innings of an 8-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Baltimore has won 12 of the last 15 meetings and took two of three at home from May 9-11. Nick Markakis, who has six multihit games in his last eight contests, was 6 for 12 in the series.