First place in the American League East is on the line in this contest tonight. Who would have imagined we'd be saying something like that in the second week of May when the season started? Not only that, but it's the Orioles and Rays who are the two teams currently tied for first. This will be the first time the teams have faced one another on the year and after the slugfest beatdowns from Texas, I'm not regretting that they are in the rear view mirror.
What challenges will face us from Tampa Bay? Well, the first challenge that the Orioles will face is that their own starter tonight is Dana Eveland. I've been dismissive of Eveland since his acquisition. In spring training I said that I'd forget he existed between starts and when I remembered him, I wished I could forget him. We'll see if he is any better than that in actual big league action. One of the things about him is that he had really bad AAA stats the last couple of years, but as people note to me, that was in the PCL, which is a hitters league. Eveland will get to face a depleted Rays lineup that's been without the injured Evan Longoria for some time, and also won't have Desmond Jennings.
Starting for the Rays is Jeremy Hellickson, who has got to be one of the luckiest pitchers (if you give weight to FIP) in all of MLB. Hellickson's got a 2.75 ERA but a 5.09 FIP. That is an astounding difference. But he maintained a pretty strong spread in favor of a lower ERA last season in his rookie campaign as well. He may benefit either from the Tampa defense or from some ephemeral quality in his pitching. He's vulnerable to the homer, though, with six surrendered in 36 innings on the season. That could be good news for an Orioles offense that loves to score runs by the homer and doesn't really love to score them otherwise. Hellickson has been walking a fair amount of batters as well, with 15 walks in his 36 IP. That may be less of a problem for him as the Orioles as a team don't walk a lot.
Another angle for this game is the return of Luke Scott to Camden Yards. Luke has seemed to find his power again early in the season. That's about all he's found. He's batting .247/.304/.548. He's already hit seven home runs. But he's a lefty and Eveland's a lefty, so hopefully he won't be putting any more plaques on Eutaw Street tonight now that he's on the wrong team.