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Orioles vs. Rays: Series Preview

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The Rays come to the Camden Yards for the first time this season as the Orioles look to move past them in the division standings.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far:

The double header yesterday was a split, but if you count the game that kicked off that White Sox series a few weeks ago, the Orioles actually won the series and have now won two in a row, having also taken two of three from the Astros to begin the week. They're 22-24 overall, two game behind the division-leading Yankees. I've mentioned this long (slightly broken up) home stand they're currently on a couple of times in these previews, where they're playing 17 of 20 at home. That stretch is coming to an end after this series against the Rays, and so far they're 9-8. I mentioned before I thought a playoff team might win 14 of those games, but the best O's are going to be able to do is 12 if they can sweep the Rays. Sweeping the Rays won't be easy by any stretch, but if they could do it and get back above .500, I'd call that a success.

The Rays are currently 24-24 and in 2nd place in the division. They were leading the division when the week started, but after losing five in a row have quickly fallen behind again. I don't think anyone expected much of this team when the season began, but they've shown times when they could play. Much like every team in this division, they seem like a group that hang in there until the very end. This may be a year it takes less than 90 wins to claim the division title. For this series, it's going to be interesting. The Orioles are 4-2 against them overall on the year, but all six of those games were at Tampa Bay where for some reason the Rays have played worse than on the road. So how will they do coming to Camden Yards?

Pitching Matchups:

Miguel Gonzalez vs. Nate Karns

Fun Fact: Miguel made his MLB debut exactly three years ago today against the Toronto Blue Jays. He didn't pitch great, but avoided a decision. Jake Arrieta would take the loss. That was only three years ago guys, sure seems like longer. Anyway, Gonzalez is currently 5-3 with a 3.83 ERA, which is almost a full point higher after his last two starts where he's given up nine earned runs total. And that's partly been because of the three home runs and five walks over those two games as well. This isn't a good trend and he needs to put the brakes on it with this start. He's 1-1 against the Rays this year, with the win coming in his last start against them on May 2nd. And fortunately, two of the Rays with the most experience against him (Desmond Jennings and James Loney) are both currently on the DL. He'll probably only need to watch out for Evan Longoria, who's 7 for 28 including a home run and with four walks lifetime against Gonzalez.

Nate Karns is actually a pretty similar pitcher to Gonzalez this year:

Gonzalez: 5-3, 3.83 ERA, 105 ERA+, 4.51 FIP, 2.00 SO/W

Karns: 3-2, 3.72 ERA, 105 ERA+, 4.26 FIP, 2.09 SO/W

They both even get the about the same amount of run support (4.85 for Gonzalez, 4.44 for Karns)...you can't make this stuff up guys. The Orioles roughed up Karns in their first matchup for six earned runs, but he did better the second time around, not giving up any earned runs even though the Rays would go on to lose the game 2-4. That was actually his only game all season he hasn't given up an earned run, Like the rest of the Rays, he's played well on the road this year, but that only happened for two of his nine starts. All of the Orioles' lineup against him was in those two games earlier this year, so that's not much of a track record. Hopefully Manny Machado can improve though - he was 0 for 8.

Wei-Yin Chen vs. Erasmo Ramirez

I wasn't familiar with Ramirez before looking him up. He did pitch 1.1 innings against the O's back on May 3rd, but that was in relief. He's really bounced around this year between the rotation and the bullpen. None of his starts have been very good, despite being given two wins by decision. He's got a 6.62 ERA but a 4.73 FIP and his SO/W is a pretty bad 1.81. This doesn't really seem like someone the Orioles should lose to.

There was some doubt Chen would start this game, as reports were he was dealing with some soreness, somewhere not in his arm. But after that double header, its probably best he is able to. Hopefully he's not dealing with anything that will affect his pitching, but I doubt Buck would start him if that was the case. Like Gonzalez, Chen's last two starts haven't been great. He's given up a home run in four of his last five starts, He's still getting a fair number of strikeouts while limiting walks though and has a decent ERA on the year of 3.13. Evan Longoria is 8 for 26 against him, Logan Forsythe is 6 for 17 with two home runs.

Chris Tillman vs. Jake Odorizzi

In his last start, Tillman had his first good outing since the last time he faced the Rays. In that last start against the Astros, he went seven innings and only gave up two earned runs. His ERA is pretty bad at 5.59, but its been slowly coming down since being at 7.58 at the end of April. He's pitched well in his two starts against the Rays this year, though he took the loss on May 1st when the lineup couldn't give him any run support. The problem with Tillman has been the walks. He's fifth in all of MLB with 25, with 4.7 every nine innings. But that's well above his career mark of 3.2, so maybe he's due for some regression to the mean. In fact, all his numbers this year seem to be off his career marks, so its possible he's just off to a slow start.

In making the argument wins and losses don't mean anything for pitchers though, you have Jake Odorizzi, who's 3-5 despite a 2.31 ERA, 2.50 FIP, and 4.42 SO/W. Odorizzi is a groundball pitcher who doesn't give up home runs (only two all year). Of course, that's pretty similar to the report on Dallas Keuchel, and we all know how that turned out for the O's. His only start against the Orioles came in the O's loss to the Rays in that opening series when they couldn't score any runs, so that worked out well for Odorizzi. But still, the Rays only give him 1.83 runs per game in support, so if the Orioles lineup can find a way to hit off of him, they may also find a way to win.

Other Notes:

- Remember that awful time earlier this year when the Orioles seemed to make multiple errors in a game? Thankfully, that seems to have stopped. They've only made three in their last 10 games, and none in their last six.

- Similar to the Orioles, the Rays are currently under-performing their pythagorean expectation and have been one of the unluckiest teams in cluster luck this year. Maybe there's a small chance that starts to regress in this series, but I kind of think it will continue. They just placed another starter on the DL (James Loney) and it could be that being unlucky is kind of part of the deal for them this year.

- The Orioles have kind of been unlucky themselves. Ryan Pollack wrote earlier this week about how the Orioles have been terrible in clutch situations at the plate, and in three of their last five games they've failed to get a hit with a runner in scoring position (of course, they had opportunities in two of those). But even going back to that Marlins series, they were 8 for 35 with RISP. 8 for 35! You have to be work to be that bad.

- The Rays' bullpen ranks slightly below the Orioles' in ERA (3.53 vs. 3.36), but they've also pitched about about 25 more innings, good for 2nd most in MLB.

- I know I basically called for Chris Davis to be benched less than a week ago (worked for one game...) but I can't say I'm not excited about how he's played the last two days. Wednesday was the first time he's hit multiple home runs in a game all season, and he's got 6 RBIs in the last three games while working his OPS up 61 points. Maybe that'll all come crashing down this weekend, but I can't say it wasn't fun to see him hitting well again.

Prediction:

I wish I could push on this...looking at the matchups, Friday night feels like a toss-up, even though the Orioles track record on Friday nights this year has been terrible. I like Chen vs. Ramirez on Saturday, but not the matchup on Sunday. I'm going to the game on Friday with my son...the last time the two of us went to a game together against the Rays was August 25th last year (which was Sunday's matchup of Tillman and Odorizzi), which the Orioles won in dominating fashion, 9-1 including (and this is the part I'm pretty sure my son and I will remember forever) three straight home runs with no outs in the fifth inning. Seems like as good a reason as any to pick two of three for this series.