Alongside the usual crop of pitchers filling the Cy Young Award race, it's still early enough for the field to be crowded with its fair share of sleeper candidates. Arguably none of them have been a bigger surprise than Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel.
The pitcher will take the mound trying to extend the Astros' seven-game winning streak -- the team's longest since July 27-Aug. 3, 2010 -- against the Orioles on Saturday for the first time since being named American League Player of the Week. Keuchel has won his last four starts, posting a 1.05 ERA and allowing just 22 hits. In 34 1/3 innings during that stretch, Keuchel has struck out 28 and walked just one.
"I'm just trying to attack the zone, and that's all I can ask for," Keuchel said. "I'm not trying to be too fine anymore. That's what I did my rookie year, and I had more walks than strikeouts. It's all about adjustments. This game is going to make adjustments to me, and I'm always trying to make adjustments to everybody else."
Keuchel will be opposed by Chris Tillman, an All-Star a year ago who has faded fast in 2014. The starting pitcher, who tossed a shutout on May 16 against the Royals, has allowed 14 earned runs in his last two starts, but he insists he's not injured.
Last time out, Tillman pitched Baltimore into an early hole and was out of the game after just 5 2/3 innings with six runs allowed. Still, the O's rallied to beat the Brewers in 10 innings.
"He was fortunate to get out of a lot of things," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's something he and we are going to have to get corrected or it's going to be a problem. It's frustrating, because we see what he's capable of."
Astros: Bullpen among the game's best recently
Houston's bullpen, which struggled mightily during the first six weeks of the season, has finally settled in with a solid run of effectiveness.
Entering Friday, the Astros' relievers boasted a 1.22 ERA in 16 games since May 11 -- the best in the Majors during that stretch.
"When you start to get six, seven innings each night out of your starting pitcher, it allows the bullpen to be that much more rested," Houston manager Bo Porter said. "When they're rested or when the entire bullpen is somewhat available, from a managerial standpoint it allows you to try to match those guys up and put them in the best situations that you can."
The Astros have gotten a major boost from the addition of Chad Qualls. The relief pitcher has settled nicely into the closer's role as several of Houston's veteran relievers -- Matt Albers, Anthony Bass and Jesse Crain -- are on the disabled list.
Orioles: Wieters begins throwing
Injured All-Star Matt Wieters made 25 throws at Minute Maid Park prior to Friday's game, but Baltimore is waiting to see the catcher throw a few more times before making an assessment.
It was the first time Wieters threw since being placed on the disabled list on May 10. He hasn't caught in a game since May 4.
"First time out, everybody who throws after that much time off is not going to be perfect," Showalter said. "I know the area where the ligament attaches, he had no discomfort there, so that was encouraging."
Wieters will take a day off from throwing on Saturday before returning to action on Sunday. The catcher is planning on an every-other-day approach for now as he tries to avoid season-ending surgery.
• In his young career, Keuchel has faced the Orioles just once, but Nelson Cruz has nine at-bats against him thanks to the outfielder's time with the Rangers. He's 4-for-9 with a homer in his limited action against Keuchel.
• The Astros have held Baltimore to just one run in each of the first two games of this four-game series. The O's haven't scored more than three in a game since Tuesday.
David Wilson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.