Away baseball is better than no baseball, right? The Orioles, Rays, and MLB made the decision this week to switch what was scheduled to be a three game series in Baltimore to Tampa Bay due to the ongoing protests in Baltimore. Even though things in the city seem to have scaled down a little compared to earlier in the week, the 10pm curfew remains in effect and that would have made it tough to play any night games. Some reports said that the Rays wouldn't agree to switch this series and then move a future Tampa Bay series to Baltimore. One player on the Rays was quoted as saying something to the effect of just not wanting to go to Baltimore. I understand not wanting to travel, but it seems to me any player on that team would be glad to get out of the basement that is Tropicana Field and play in a nice outdoor park like Camden Yards, but there you go.
The Orioles have won three in a row, winning their last two in a dominant fashion: They scored 26 runs while only allowing nine. Bud Norris and Ubaldo Jimenez both turned in very good starts in those games, and most of the runs they gave up were in the Sunday afternoon game against the Red Sox, when Jason Garcia came in to pitch in a low-leverage situation. Those are the times you want to be sending out a young pitcher you're trying to develop, but he's not making it easy for the Orioles to keep him on the team. Currently, the Orioles are 10-10.
The Rays just lost two of three against the Yankees in New York. All three games were low scoring affairs. In fact, the Rays have only scored more than five runs twice in their last 13 games, even getting shut out twice. Of course, with their pitching staff, you don't need to score a lot of runs to win games. They've gone 7-6 in those 13 games and currently stand at 12-10.
The Orioles took two of three the only other time they've faced the Rays this year, in that opening series in Tampa Bay. Can they continue their win streak and gain some ground in the division?
Friday, May 1st
Alex Colome vs. Chris Tillman
Colome hasn't pitched yet this year, he was just activated from the DL where he started the season. He's only pitched in eight games in his career, mixing in time as a starter and reliever. For his short career, he's 3-1 with a 2.50 ERA, but his FIP for that time is 4.33. So far he seems to be a bit of a fly ball pitcher, with a 0.72 groundball to flyball ratio (MLB average is 0.83). He doesn't have much of a track record against anyone, but Chris Davis has two walks in three plate appearances, so there's that.
I looked up whether Davis has been any better with getting walks lately to see if that might continue, but it doesn't really seem to be the case. He has six on the season, but they seem to come in groups. In his last four games, he only has one walk, but he's got three home runs. In his four games before that, he got four of his six walks, but had no home runs. I suppose this makes sense and may very well be a good thing, when he sees pitches he likes in the zone, he's mashing them. When he gets pitched outside, he's taking them for walks. He's got a .296/.382/.667 line for a 1.049 OPS in those last eight games...how great would it be if that continues? In his career at the Trop he's got a .788 OPS, but that may have been held back by a low .204 BAPIP.
Chris Tillman has not been great this season. Actually, he hasn't even really been good. I keep hoping he's going to break out and give us performances that make him the clear #1 starter on this team, but it keeps not happening. There were times last year when it looked like he might be putting that together, but this year after a good first start against the Rays things have gone downhill. To be fair, three of his four starts this year have come against Boston and Toronto, two of the more offensively potent lineups in the league. Still, it would be nice to see him turn in another start of at least 6 innings. The bullpen is certainly well rested after these days off if he can't, but it would still be a good sign. In that last start against Tampa Bay on opening day Tillman went 6.2 innings with 1 ER, 3 walks, and 4 strikeouts. Those walks are an issue for Tillman so far this year, he's already given up 13. Tamps Bay has 79 walks this season, good for 4th best in the AL, so maybe this won't be the start Tillman gets that under control.
Saturday, May 2nd
Chris Archer vs. Miguel Gonzalez
OK, I'll admit it. Miguel Gonzalez has been better than I expected this year. He's gone at least five innings in all four of his starts, currently has a 3.42 ERA and already has a 10 strikeout game, totaling 21 on the year. He also pitched in that opening series against Tampa Bay, but in a losing effort. It wasn't really his fault though. He only gave one earned run on three hits, the offense just gave him no run support. The biggest threat to Gonzalez in this game is likely going to be Evan Longoria. He's been one of the best hitters on the Rays this year and against Gonzalez in his career he's 7 for 25 with four walks. Desmond Jennings also has a good career against Gonzalez with four home runs, but he hasn't been hitting very well this year against anyone.
Chris Archer is a good pitcher. The Orioles saw him in that first series and knocked him around a bit, but since that game he has not given up an earned run. Not a single one. He's pitched 26.2 innings in the four games since the Orioles saw him, with 32 strikeouts and only 5 walks to go with - and I'm going to repeat this - his 0.00 ERA. Those numbers are pretty incredible, and it places him third in WAR (according to Baseball Reference) among pitchers in the MLB with 1.6. That ties him with Felix Hernandez. The guy has been that good. So what do we have to hope for? Well, other than the fact the Orioles are the only team to beat him this year...I've got nothing. He was slightly inefficient against Boston, throwing 106 pitches in 5.2 innings, but his average for the season is right 15 pitchers per innings, which is just where you want to be. I suppose the only good news is the low bar...if the Orioles score one run against him they'll break up his streak. Let's hope that would be enough.
Sunday, May 3rd
Nathan Karns vs. Wei-Yin Chen
Nathan Karns is another starter the Orioles saw in that opening series. They got six runs off of him that second game of the year in 5.2 innings. Things have been better for him since, he's gone 1-0 with a 3.57 ERA in four starts. Not quite Chris Archer numbers, but I suppose nothing to scoff at. But his FIP so far this season is 5.61. Of course, his career ERA (it hasn't been that long of a career) is 5.33, and yet he still has outperformed his FIP which sits at 6.27. Kind of weird numbers. No one has much of a track record against him, though Chris Davis is 2 for 4 with a home run. It'll be interesting to see, like with Archer, if that first start of his was the more the Orioles having success against him or more of the pitcher being a little rusty his first time out.
Speaking of rusty, that may have been the problem with Chen when he pitched against the Rays in that opening series. He gave up three runs in 4.1 innings. His next couple starts weren't a whole lot better (or really, better at all) but in his last start he pitched a great game against Boston going eight innings, with five strikeouts and only one walk. That was the David Lough walk-off home run game. Chen has a career 3.11 ERA at Tropicana, giving up five home runs in 46.1 innings pitched. Like Gonzalez, the guys who have a history of giving him trouble are Desmond Jennings and Evan Longoria. But again, with Jennings not having a great year, he may not be a factor. Longoria will continue to be an issue.
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What else is there to look for in this series?
- Steven Souza .is having a decent year in his first season with the Rays. He's only hitting .237, but has four home runs, which leads the team.
- Kevin Kiermaier has probably been the Rays' best hitter, with a wRC+ of 153 so far this season. He's bats left too, but fortunately neither righty the Orioles are sending out (Tillman and Gonzalez) have any real LHB/RHB splits, so maybe they can keep him in check since Kiermaier seems to be getting most of his success against RHP this year.
- I mentioned the Orioles bullpen should be nice and rested after those days off this week and that's true - but are they too rested? Kevin Gausman and Zach Britton are the only ones who got in against that game vs. the White Sox, and in the Sunday game before that only Jason Garcia saw any action. In the game before that, it was Britton, Brach, and Matusz. That leaves O'Day and Tommy Hunter as not having seen any action in a week. I'm sure they'll be the first two out on Friday night...will be interesting to see how they do.
- Steve Pearce had two home runs in the first two games of the year last time out against the Rays, but he hasn't hit one since. He's been better the last five games after going into a bit of a slump after the team left Tampa. Maybe this impromptu trip to the Trop will be good for him though - in his career he's got five home runs there (the most of any park outside of OPACY) to go along with a 1.093 OPS.
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So that's it. Can the team continue their winning streak and get back above .500 on the year? You have to like their chances on Friday against Colome given the way the offense has been clicking lately. Archer could be tough, but Gonzalez should be able to keep them in it. Karns vs. Chen is a little hard to read. Call me a homer, but I'm going to pick them to win 2 of 3 again and jump past the Rays in the division standings.