With Boston stumbling, Tampa Bay is back in front in the division. The Orioles will try to serve as an obstacle in the Rays’ path.
The Orioles have had a hard time against a lot of teams this season. It’s been particularly difficult, though, against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The O’s are 1-8 this season against the Rays, who have taken the American League East division lead back from the Red Sox with Boston’s recent struggles. There’s only one team the Orioles have fared worse against — the Chicago White Sox, against whom they’re 0-7 — and the 63 runs they’ve allowed are the third-most against any opponent, behind only the Yankees (77) and Blue Jays (64).
Baltimore is 12-26 against Tampa Bay over the last three seasons. Suffice to say, the Rays have the O’s number.
The most recent series, however, had some positive signs. After earning their first win over Tampa Bay by a 6-1 score on July 19, the Orioles had a tough game the following night before taking a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the ninth of the rubber game prior to falling 5-4.
Was it one fluke competitive series, or have the Orioles closed the gap by a hair? We’ll find out for sure this series.
Tampa Bay is 65-44, and has withstood the loss of No. 1 pitcher Tyler Glasnow to remain near the front of the American League. As has been the case with Rays teams before, they’re not the heaviest hitting bunch — their .233 average is 25th in baseball, and their .721 OPS is 14th — but their pitching has been the backbone. Tampa Bay ranks sixth in MLB with a 3.55 ERA, and their collective 1.148 WHIP places third in the majors and first in the American League.
Game 1: Friday, 7:05 p.m.
LHP Ryan Yarbrough (6-4, 4.58) vs. LHP John Means (5-3, 2.84)
In addition to his record and ERA, Yarbrough has a 1.184 WHIP and 7.4 strikeout-per-nine ratio. He’s had an up-and-down season, and over his last eight starts has gone 2-1 with a 5.79 ERA. Included in that stretch was a start in Baltimore’s aforementioned victory; he allowed six runs on eight hits in 5.2 innings in that outing.
Means had two tough outings as he returned from a shoulder injury, one coming against the Rays (five runs on seven hits in five innings), but he looked more like the pitcher from the start of the season in his last start against the Tigers. He allowed one run on four hits in six innings while striking out six as the Orioles won 5-2.
Game 2: Saturday, 7:05 p.m.
LHP Shane McClanahan (5-4, 3.74) vs. RHP Spenser Watkins (2-2, 3.81)
McClanahan has been one of the Rays’ most consistent pitchers this season. He’s made 16 starts and allowed four runs or fewer in all but two of them, and has allowed only one run in three of his last four times out. His one start against Baltimore on July 20 was one of those smooth outings, as he struck out seven in five innings while allowing four hits.
Watkins is trying to find the form that made him the talk of Birdland in his first few starts. After rolling through the first four outings of his career with a 2-0 record and 1.65 ERA, Watkins came down to earth by first allowing four runs on nine hits in four innings against the Marlins, and then four runs on three hits in 5.2 innings against the Tigers.
He was the winning pitcher against the Rays in the third start of his career, so who knows. Maybe he’s got another gem in him.
Game 3: Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
RHP Michael Wacha (2-3, 5.26) vs. RHP Jorge Lopez (3-12, 5.91)
Wacha, a former top pitcher for the Cardinals who was a breakout star during their run to the 2013 World Series, has had trouble finding consistent success this season. He’s had some great showings, such as five innings of one-run ball against the Yankees on July 28 and six such innings against the Indians on July 7, but a 5.98 ERA since the start of May indicates the difficulty he’s had stringing such outings together.
He went five innings in the third game of the Rays’ and Orioles’ last series with each other, allowing three runs on six hits.
Lopez hadn’t gotten a win since June 6, but he broke through in his last start, pitching six one-hit innings against the Yankees. He walked five but struck out four, and allowed only one run. Lopez has had some decent starts throughout the year, and finally got the decision that snapped his shutout skid. The Orioles certainly wouldn’t mind seeing him do it again.
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