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Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles (34-26) @ Tampa Bay Rays (32-27), 7-9 June

The Rays and Orioles face off in an crucial series that could either give the Orioles breathing room in the standings or knock them down to fourth place in the A.L. East.

Greg Fiume

The Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays face off this weekend and though it's just the first week of June, it will already be their four series of the season. The Orioles took two out of three in each of the first two series but were swept by the Rays in their most recent meeting, which came in the midst of their six-game losing streak. That gives the Rays a one-game edge in the season series so far.

The Orioles are currently 1.5 games ahead of the Rays in the standings, so it would behoove them to win this series and put a little space between themselves and fourth place.

Game 1: Jason Hammel, RHP (7-3, 5.43 ERA) vs. Chris Archer, RHP (0-1, 11.25 ERA)

Hammel vs. Rays Archer vs. O's
IP 14 1/3 3 2/3
ERA 6.91 2.45
WHIP 1.256 1.636
BA/OBP/SLG - Past .269/.305/.500 .214/.353/.214
BA/OBP/SLG - Current .261/.303/.471 .143/.333/.143

Chris Archer has only faced the Orioles once when he pitched in relief late last season, and it was a weird one. Joe Maddon had elected to use third baseman Evan Longoria as the designated hitter for the game, but in the ninth inning and with the game tied, Maddon moved Longoria to third base and lost his DH. Halfway through Ryan Roberts' at bat in the 11th, Roberts hurt himself. Maddon was out of bench players, so he sent in Archer to pinch hit. Archer pitched 3 2/3 innings before he gave up walk-off single to Manny Machado in the bottom of the 14th inning. Like I said, weird.

Archer has only made one start this season, so don't let that 11.25 ERA fool you. He gave up five runs in four innings against the Cleveland Indians on June 1st. Archer has been a highly thought of prospect, ranked #36 by Baseball America before the 2013 season. But he struggles with his command, posting a 5 BB/9 in 8 minor-league seasons. In his brief time in the majors he has walked 16 batters in 33 1/3 innings.

Jason Hammel has been a frustrating player to watch this season. After struggling through the first part of the season, it finally looked like Hammel might be returning to 2012 form when he had two good starts in a row against the Yankees and Nationals. But in his last start against Detroit, Hammel gave up back-to-back-to-back home runs before being ejected for hitting a player in the head. Not his finest moment.

Hammel has faced the Rays twice this season. On Opening Day he was serviceable, but not great, giving up three runs in six innings with just two strikeouts. In his second start against the Rays he only pitched 4 2/3 innings and gave up seven runs on ten hits.

The two Rays with the most plate appearances against Hammel are James Loney and Kelly Johnson, and both have knocked him around good. Loney has gone 10-for-33 against Hammel with three homers and two doubles. Kelly has gone 8-for-24 with two homers and a double. The good news is that the Rays with the second and third most plate appearances, Yunel Escobar and Ryan Roberts, have been terrible against him. Of course, they're terrible against most people.

Game 2: Kevin Gausman, RHP (0-2, 7.20 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson, RHP (3-2, 5.59 ERA)

Gausman vs. Rays Hellickson vs. O's
IP - 84 1/3
ERA - 3.31
WHIP - 1.103
BA/OBP/SLG - Past - .223/.275/.373
BA/OBP/SLG - Current - .239/.291/.415

I'm not a big fan of Jeremy Hellickson. The reason for this is the fact that he pitches very well against the Orioles. It's annoying. Actually, Hellickson hasn't been that great against the Orioles (or anyone else) in 2013. After 2.5 good seasons for the Rays, Hellickson seems to have lost his way this year. He has faced the Orioles twice and has pitched terribly, though somehow the Rays won both of those games. On April 3rd he gave up 5 runs in 6 1/3 innings in a game when the Rays won in the bottom of the 9th. And on May 17th he started the 8th inning despite having given up four runs through the first seven and fell apart. The Rays won that game 12-10.

There are five Orioles with >20 plate appearances against Hellickson. Chris Davis has an 1.182 OPS against him in 22 PA and Adam Jones is 11-for-35 in his career against Hellickson with three home runs. The other three batters with >20 PA are Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis. Hardy has been about average against him, the other two not so much.

Young Kevin Gausman will be looking to build on his fantastic start against the Tigers last week when he gave up just one run in six innings with four strikeouts and no walks. He should have an easier time against the Rays considering they aren't nearly the offensive force that the Tigers are, but what will happen with Gausman on the mound is a mystery for now.

Game 3: Chris Tillman, RHP (5-2, 3.97 ERA) vs. Matt Moore, LHP (8-1, 2.95 ERA)

Tillman vs. Rays Moore vs. O's
IP 48 2/3 34 2/3
ERA 4.99 2.34
WHIP 1.336 1.471
BA/OBP/SLG - Past .247/.325/.549 .250/.333/.390
BA/OBP/SLG - Current .245/.336/.564 .285/.354/.441

The Orioles website says that the O's pitcher for this game is TBD, but I don't see why it wouldn't be Tillman. This is not really an inspiring match up. Matt Moore is quite good at baseball, but the good thing about him (for the Orioles anyway) is that he walks a lot of batters. He's currently walking 4.8 batters per nine innings. He started the season with eight straight wins before being forced out after one inning due to a rain delay on May 31st. He was then dominated by the Indians who scored six runs in two innings. Moore walked six batters in that game. In two innings. Woah.

Still, I don't expect we'll see that Moore on Sunday. Both Adam Jones and Matt Wieters have hit Moore very well in their careers, but the rest of the current Orioles don't have much success against him. (Manny Machado is OPS'ing .946 but that's only in 7 at bats).

This will be Tillman's third start against the Rays this year and he has yet to be sharp in a game against them this season. He has pitched eleven total innings and has given up four home runs and seven total runs. He was very good in his last game against Houston but, well, it was Houston. Tillman has been like a yo yo this year, pitching 5 innings or less four times and 7 innings or more three. Hopefully in this series we see good Chris, because the O's will need it against Moore.