The battle for second place in the American League East, and the inside track towards one of the two American League wild card spots, will rage in Camden Yards for the next three games. The Orioles are seven games behind New York, but two games ahead of the Rays, and it's Tampa Bay who's coming to town as the month of July winds down. The time to face off against the division leaders will come, don't worry - although if I was you I think I would actually worry instead.
Good news for Orioles fans is that the lone consistent pitcher who is not on the disabled list is starting for them tonight: Wei-Yin Chen takes the ball. Even better news is that the Rays have been 11-19 this season against left-handed starters - which, of course, does not mean a guaranteed victory, but that the scales might be slightly tipped in favor of the O's pitcher in the matchup. That isn't too bad.
O's hitters will be facing Jeremy Hellickson, who is the MLB starter with the single widest gap between his ERA number and his FIP number. A 3.55 ERA is good for a 5.33 FIP - that's a -1.79 difference there. Last year it was -1.49 to get from his FIP to his ERA. Why is that? Well, he is mostly a contact pitcher, with a K/9 just below 6, but has had control problems to date in MLB with a career walk rate of 3.33 per 9 innings pitched. He either has the most insane BABIP luck ever, or is the beneficiary of pitching in front of the Rays defense. That was likely the cast last year, when as a team the Rays were an astounding +55 runs as a team on UZR. This year they are a much more pedestrian -0.8 runs.
Home runs are up for Hellickson this year. 17 allowed in 99 innings pitched. I guess theoretically the Orioles could hurt him there, if they aren't busy striking out or grounding into a million double plays. Man, that gets frustrating sometimes.
Tonight's game apparently marks the return of Sam Fuld to the lineup for the Rays, which I guess maybe means something to the kind of people who get excited about a 30 year old outfielder with a career slash line of .244/.330/.355? With as much as some people freak out over him, I at least expected him to be younger than me. Well, whatever. Scrub, marginal players love killing the Orioles. Just bat them 7th, 8th, or 9th - Fuld is 7th today - and they will eat our pitcher, whoever it might be at the time, for dinner.
The O's rotation brings a string of six straight quality starts into the game tonight - that wasn't enough to get them a win last night, but if Chen can keep that streak rolling, it's as good of a beginning as you can hope for to get the team back in the win column.
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES||TAMPA BAY RAYS|
|Nick Markakis - RF||Desmond Jennings - CF|
|J.J. Hardy - SS||B.J. Upton - DH|
|Jim Thome - DH||Ben Zobrist - 2B|
|Adam Jones - CF||Jeff Keppinger - 1B|
|Matt Wieters - C||Matt Joyce - RF|
|Wilson Betemit - 3B||Sean Rodriguez - SS|
|Chris Davis - LF||Sam Fuld - LF|
|Mark Reynolds - 1B||Jose Lobaton - C|
|Omar Quintanilla - 2B||Brooks Conrad - 3B|