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Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 19-21 August 2013

After going 2-1 against the Rockies to kick off their homestand, the Orioles will face the Rays and Athletics for three games each, with a day off on Thursday.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Every time the Orioles go through a bad stretch and make me think they're out of it, they win another series and suck me right back in. The Rays are currently in second place in the AL East: one game behind the Red Sox, 3.5 games ahead of the O's, and 0.5 games ahead of the A's for the first wild card slot. They've had some ups and downs this year - months are arbitrary endpoints, but they had losing records in April and June (25-29 combined) while going on tears in May and July (39-15 combined). They've struggled a bit in August, going 6-8 thus far, but had two walkoff wins in their last series. They currently lead the season series against the O's, seven games to five.

Monday, 19 August: Chris Tillman vs. David Price
Career Numbers Tillman vs. Rays Price vs. O's
IP 54.2 93.1
ERA 4.77 2.60
FIP 6.20 2.73
Slash Line (Past Teams) .241/.316/.532 .222/.272/.323
Slash Line (Current Players) .237/.315/.518 .249/.290/.368

The less saber-inclined members of sports media will talk a lot about how Tillman was denied his 15th win in his last two starts, despite pitching well. It isn't as bad as that makes it sound, though; the O's won the first of those games, so they only wasted one good start rather than two. I commented recently about how Chris had brought up his strikeout rate a bit, especially after that start against the Giants in which he struck out nine in eight innings. So, of course, he only struck out one in Arizona last week. Still, he's effectively our staff ace right now, and he's given us 146 innings of 3.70 ERA ball. That's hard to complain about, even if we worry that the 4.70 FIP (though 4.09 xFIP) means it isn't sustainable.

Price isn't quite repeating his Cy Young 2012, but results-wise, he's basically the same guy he was in 2010-2011 - which is to say, pretty darn good. He's sporting a career-low walk rate of 1.21 BB/9, which is slightly lower than Koji Uehara's career mark (1.28). His strikeout rate has dipped to a rather pedestrian 7.12 K/9, though, and his home run rate has jumped to a similarly mediocre 1.00 HR/9. Still, this guy is not one you ever want your team to face, and the O's have had only occasional success against him in the past. The last time he pitched against Baltimore, he gave up five runs in six innings, but prior to that, his last non-quality start against them was in June 2011.

Maybe hot: Evan Longoria (1.452 OPS & 3 HR, 24 PA), Matt Wieters (.903 OPS, 35 PA)

Likely not: Yunel Escobar (.444 OPS, 12 PA), Adam Jones (.508 OPS, 36 PA)

Tuesday, 20 August: Alex Cobb vs. Miguel Gonzalez
Career Numbers Gonzalez vs. Rays Cobb vs. O's
IP 34.0 11.2
ERA 3.97 2.31
FIP 5.95 3.01
Slash Line (Past Teams) .242/.349/.403 .209/.277/.279
Slash Line (Current Players) .230/.321/.338 .219/.286/.313

Gonzalez has had a pair of solid starts since his two-game hiccup at the end of July; the O's won his start in San Diego, but the bullpen blew the lead in Arizona. He's had mixed success against the Rays in the past, managing to hold his own in his six starts against them despite peripherals that suggest he should've done worse. He saw the Rays twice in April, with about the results you'd guess based on the above: one 6.1 IP, 2 R effort, and one 5.2 IP, 5 R (4 ER) game. He surrendered three homers in the latter; prior to that start, his numbers versus the Rays looked a lot better.

Cobb will be making his second start after getting hit in the head by a line drive back in June. It's hard not to root for a guy a little when he's coming back from something like that, but... not for this start. Cobb's pitched against the O's twice, both last year, and did quite overall, though he only threw 4.2 innings in the first start. Outside of the injury, he's having a great year statistically, as he's improved his strikeout and walk rates each year he's been in the majors. Perhaps his most notable stat is his high groundball rate: 56.4% this year and 57.1% career. Depending on the minimum innings you pick, that puts him inside or just out of the top ten starters in the majors in that category.

Maybe hot: Evan Longoria (1.053 OPS, 12 PA)

Likely not: Ben Zobrist (.133 OPS, 15 PA), Matt Joyce (.466 OPS, 16 PA)

Wednesday, 21 August: Wei-Yin Chen vs. Jeremy Hellickson
Career Numbers Chen vs. Rays Hellickson vs. O's
IP 39.0 90.1
ERA 3.00 3.09
FIP 3.38 3.83
Slash Line (Past Teams) .246/.292/.338 .220/.269/.360
Slash Line (Current Players) .258/.324/.323 .240/.288/.403

Chen had a streak of six straight quality starts broken against the Rockies on Friday, as Buck Showalter once again tried to get a seventh inning out of him and paid the price. I can certainly understand why, given the workload and struggles of the bullpen lately, but Chen has pretty consistently shown that once he gets to about ninety pitches, he needs a quick hook. That said, it's been great having him back in the rotation, because a guy that can consistently get you five innings of great pitching is awfully valuable, even if he can only get much deeper than that against softer competition. Chen has pitched quite well against the Rays in the past, too, so I like the O's chances in this one.

Of course, Hellickson's been pretty good against the O's, too. He's finally having a bad year ERA-wise, though (4.91), largely because he's finally posting a .305 BABIP, unlike the sub-.260 one he had over the prior three years. He had three consecutive bad starts - lasting less than five innings and surrendering four-plus runs in each - prior to his last one. Hopefully he'll go back to struggling for at least one more start.

Maybe hot: Adam Jones (.912 OPS & 3 HR, 39 PA), Chris Davis (1.083 OPS, 24 PA), Ben Zobrist (1.056 OPS, 19 PA)

Likely not: Matt Wieters (.545 OPS, 31 PA), Sean Rodriguez (.091 OPS, 12 PA)

Jim Palmer and I had a relationship based on mutual respect. That doesn't mean we always agreed. ...Often our disagreements centered on how much Jim should pitch. There were times that Jim wanted to come out of a game and I wanted him to stay on the mound. But these were sincere differences of opinion about what was best for the Orioles--Jim felt a reliever would be more likely to get out of the jam. - Earl Weaver