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Orioles-Rays series preview: Weak TB bats meet struggling O's rotation

Rays hitters have not been very good so far this year. Neither have Orioles starting pitchers. Will one give way more than the other in this series?

The tale of the upcoming Orioles series against the Rays will be one of the stoppable force against the movable object. The story is fairly simple. The Rays, with 65 runs scored in 18 games, have scored fewer runs than all but two other American League teams. The Orioles, with a 5.32 ERA from their starting pitchers, have a worse starter ERA than any other AL team other than the Red Sox.

These two teams have actually allowed the same number of runs, though the O's have played one fewer game up to now. Though the O's starters are struggling, their bullpen is excellent, with a 1.62 ERA headed into Sunday's games. The Rays are fairly middle of the road with their own rotation (9th in the AL) and bullpen (8th). If they could only score, they'd probably get somewhere.

That's the trick, isn't it? Through their 18 games, the Rays have been shut out twice and scored only one run twice. They've topped three runs in only five games up until now. That's generally, if not always, the break point for teams. If they score four or more, they win; if they score three or fewer, they lose.

Rays pitchers have done well enough that they're trying to push that point. The team has won three games already where they scored three runs. Fluke, or a sign of things to come? It could also mean that if their offense ever does heat up - and they had an impressive showing on Sunday, beating the Yankees 8-1 - then they will be in great shape. At 8-10, they have room to improve, and it's far too early for things to be hopeless for most teams.

Here are a number of guys who have received significant playing time so far this season who have not exactly been carrying their weight at the plate. Numbers here include Sunday's games:

Player Games Plate App. Batting Average On-Base % Slugging %
Logan Morrison 16 53 .080 .132 .100
Brad Miller 16 56 .115 .179 .231
Curt Casali 13 38 .139 .162 .250
Desmond Jennings 16 63 .232 .317 .321

Orioles pitchers being what they are, we should all fully expect these bottom-of-the-lineup scrubs to dominate over the course of this series. They are bad. Some are very bad.

Even so, it's worth keeping in mind that a couple of hot games will make those numbers look a lot better than they do right now. Former Oriole Steve Pearce entered Sunday batting .226/.294/.258, which is abysmal and would have put him on this list, but he went 2-4 with a double and reached base on a hit by pitch as well.

Now, Pearce's batting line is .257/.333/.371 - still not great, but not an anchor. It only took one game to turn that around.

O's pitchers can't totally sleep on even struggling big league hitters. There's a reason that they got here in the first place - and that reason isn't that they suck.

Game 1: Monday, April 25, 7:10 Eastern

Kevin Gausman (season debut) vs. Chris Archer (0-4, 7.32 ERA)

It's worth noting about the Rays rotation that while their overall numbers are pedestrian, nearly all of what is dragging them down from the top is the performance of Archer so far this season. He's their only starter who's not at least doing acceptable. The other guys who have started games all have ERAs below 4.

The O's contributed to Archer's early struggle, tagging him for six runs in five innings back on April 8. If they can keep that going, they'll take a lot of pressure off of Gausman in his debut. Chris Davis (1.479 OPS in 20 PA) and Manny Machado (1.025 OPS in 26 PA) have good numbers against Archer. Adam Jones (.251 OPS in 25 PA) does not.

Even in Archer's decent games, he's yet to pitch more than 5.1 innings. Archer's two bad games were on the road and his two decent ones were at home. We'll find out if the Trop helps him against the O's tonight.

Game 2: Tuesday, April 26, 7:10 Eastern

Ubaldo Jimenez (1-1, 3.71 ERA) vs. Jake Odorizzi (0-1, 3.97 ERA)

Odorizzi's season is actually very similar to Archer's. He's had two bad games on the road and two good games at home. The difference is that his road games were less bad than Archer's, while his home games were much better. So again, if the Trop helps the Rays pitchers hold down offenses, the O's could be in trouble.

Davis (.847 OPS), Jones (1.000 OPS), and Machado (1.084 OPS) have all faced Odorizzi at least 20 times in their careers and have good numbers. It'd be good for the O's if this can be the game that starts to get Jones's bat heated up.

The problem for Jimenez is always that he can't throw strikes. The Rays hitters have the second-lowest walk rate in the AL. It's another stoppable force/movable object kind of question. Most of the Rays lineup has never faced him before.

Game 3: Wednesday, April 27, 7:10 Eastern

Chris Tillman (1-1, 4.42 ERA) vs. Matt Moore (1-1, 3.60 ERA)

Moore missed nearly all of the 2014 season and most of last year due to Tommy John surgery. His 2015 pitching results were not impressive as he ended up with a 5.43 ERA in 12 starts. Things are going better for him so far in 2016. Moore has gotten significantly more strikeouts and issued fewer walks by a large margin.

Small sample size, or the beginning of a new normal? It's worth noting that even when Moore was successful prior to the surgery, he had a large walk rate of 11.8% in 2013. So far this year it's been a 4.9% walk rate. O's hitters took an uncharacteristically high 8.8% walk rate into Sunday's game. One of these numbers must give way.

No one in baseball has seen more of Tillman than Evan Longoria, who destroys him: .333/.393/.824 in 56 plate appearances. That includes seven home runs. Do this one favor for me, Chris: Don't let Longoria be the guy to beat you.

How are you feeling about this series? Do you think the O's will be able to come home from Tampa with a winning series, or will they limp along to another 1-2 or worse?