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Astros' staff fresh, tuned up despite finale loss

MLB.com @brianmctaggart

BALTIMORE -- So much for World Series hangovers. Coming off their first championship, the Astros followed with the greatest regular season in franchise history.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards, the Astros wrapped up the regular season with a 4-0 loss to the Orioles in which they were held to one hit, finishing with a 103-59 record and their second consecutive American League West title.

View Full Game Coverage

BALTIMORE -- So much for World Series hangovers. Coming off their first championship, the Astros followed with the greatest regular season in franchise history.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon at Camden Yards, the Astros wrapped up the regular season with a 4-0 loss to the Orioles in which they were held to one hit, finishing with a 103-59 record and their second consecutive American League West title.

View Full Game Coverage

The Astros will have four days off before facing the Indians in Game 1 of the best-of-five AL Division Series on Friday in Houston.

:: ALDS schedule and results ::

"I don't know if you guys could tell, but the boys wanted to get back to Houston, quicker than maybe even the itinerary said," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "We'll get on the plane and get home. We'll take a full day off together and get together as a team on Tuesday afternoon. We'll do it again on Wednesday and Thursday and tee it up on Friday."

The Astros finished the season strong, going 21-6 in September to hold off the hard-charging A's in the final week of the season. They also were able to get indications that pitchers Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. and shortstop Carlos Correa had put their health problems behind them entering the postseason.

Correa sits out finale to rest for ALDS

"Setting the franchise record for wins going into the playoffs, we couldn't ask to set ourselves up any better than what we are," Hinch said. "We do get some time off. I think we'll freshen up everybody a little bit and be anxious. I'm proud of our guys, and our guys should be proud of themselves. That's as good of a September as we could have asked for or drawn up."

The biggest development from Sunday's season finale was the performance of Morton, who threw free and easy and looked healthy in tossing three scoreless innings in his career-high 30th start. He allowed one hit and one walk and fanned four, passing 200 strikeouts for the season.

"I felt a little rusty, but I felt good," Morton said. "I'm optimistic."

Morton made four starts since being activated from the disabled list, which had caused him to miss one start with a sore shoulder. In his previous start a week ago, Morton lasted only one inning and his velocity was down. On Sunday, Morton threw 34 pitches and averaged 95.1 mph with his fastball. He even touched 96 mph.

Video: HOU@BAL: James fans Wilkerson to escape jam in 6th

"He was good," Hinch said. "It was nice to see him go back out there, it was nice to see him get to 200 strikeouts. I think it cleared his conscience a little bit that he could let it go and everything was going to be OK. It was a very productive day."

The Orioles tagged reliever Brad Peacock for four runs in the fourth inning. McCullers pitched in relief for the second game in a row, striking out both batters he faced in the eighth in his third appearance since coming off the DL.

"He probably felt better today than he did the night before," Hinch said. "His confidence is high, his comfort is fine. His stuff is nasty."

Jose Altuve notched the Astros' lone hit of the afternoon, a single in the fourth inning off Orioles starter Jimmy Yacabonis. Altuve, who was on the disabled list for the first time in his career this season, was unable to reach 200 hits for the first time since 2013, finishing with 168.

Video: HOU@BAL: Altuve parks a single into right in the 4th

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Morton reached the 200-strikeout mark for the first time in his career when he whiffed Steve Wilkerson in the third inning. He's the third Astros pitcher to strike out at least 200 batters this year, joining Justin Verlander (290) and Gerrit Cole (276). The only other trio to do that in franchise history was comprised of Larry Dierker, Tom Griffin and Don Wilson in 1969.

"That was cool," Morton said. "I struck him out, and I heard Gerrit yelling. He was like, 'Yeah!' I looked over, and then he and Dallas [Keuchel] are waving for the ball. Gerrit went and got it authenticated for me. So that was awesome. He's a good pal."

Video: HOU@BAL: Morton, Hinch on Astros 4-0 loss to the O's

SOUND SMART
The Astros allowed 534 runs this season, the fewest by an American League team in a non-strike year since the introduction of the designated hitter in 1973. The previous record was held by the '74 A's. The Astros' staff also set a Major League record with 1,687 strikeouts.

Video: HOU@BAL: Bregman steps on third, throws for DP

HE SAID IT
"It's not going to be easy to win one game, let alone the 11 you have to win to win the World Series." -- Hinch

UP NEXT
The Astros open Game 1 of the AL Division Series on Friday in Houston against the Indians. Verlander is the Astros' likely Game 1 starter. The Indians will start two-time AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber.

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter and listen to his podcast.

Houston Astros, Charlie Morton