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Orioles-Rays series preview: The classic stoppable force vs. movable object

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The last place Rays come to town for four games in three days. Can the Orioles’ bad rotation triumph over Tampa’s bad offense?

There’s only one team that truly seems to be out of the picture in the AL East in the 2016 season. It’s those Rays who will be coming to town for four games in three days against the Orioles, including a split doubleheader on Saturday.

One easy storyline to talk about might have been the performance of Steve Pearce so far this season for the Rays. He has, weirdly enough, been their best hitter by OPS. He also hit the disabled list in the last week with a hamstring injury. Another former Oriole, Ryan Webb, is also on the disabled list, while yet another former Oriole, Dana Eveland, was DFA’d by the Rays not too long ago.

As a team, the Rays have the worst batting average in the American League as well as the second-worst on-base percentage. That’s not very good at all, and probably explains why they have the second-fewest runs scored in the AL as well. However, one thing the Rays can do well is hit home runs. They have hit 100, good for fourth in the AL.

The strength of the Rays team is in their starting pitching. Although a 4.18 ERA for their starters doesn’t sound very impressive, that’s actually fifth-best in the AL, three-quarters of a run better than the Orioles rotation. That really adds up.

What will it add up to in this series? That’s always the question. The Orioles rotation is still what it is, though at least Manny Machado will be back from his suspension. Here’s how the matchups look for each game.

Game 1: Friday, June 24, 7:05 Eastern

Yovani Gallardo (2-1, 6.26 ERA) vs. Matt Moore (3-4, 4.90 ERA)
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The Orioles saw Moore back on April 27 in the Trop and tagged him for three runs in seven innings. That sounds like a good outing compared to what the O’s usually get, and it was, but the Rays still lost the game, 3-1.

Although Moore’s ERA doesn’t look great for the season, he was solid in April and has been solid so far in June. A bad May drags him down. If that trend continues, the Orioles shouldn’t expect a cakewalk, not that they should ever expect a cakewalk - especially when who knows what they’re going to get from Gallardo in his second start back from the DL.

In general, the Orioles don’t do well against left-handed pitchers, but a couple of Orioles have done well against Moore, including Adam Jones (1.115 OPS in 29 PA) and Matt Wieters (1.228 OPS in 23 PA). On the other hand, Chris Davis (.440 OPS in 24 PA) is probably not going to break his slump against Moore.

Game 2: Saturday, June 25, 1:05 Eastern

Kevin Gausman (0-5, 4.37 ERA) vs. Matt Andriese (6-0, 2.88 ERA)
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Winless Kevin Gausman is one of those ongoing storylines of the 2016 Orioles team. He’s not pitched great but he hasn’t pitched horribly most of the time either. A lot of his losses have been due to a lack of run support. Will that be any different against Andriese on Saturday afternoon?

Andriese last started on June 10. He’s made three relief appearances since then. The Orioles have not seen him yet this year. He could prove to be the good kind of pitcher for the Orioles to face, as he doesn’t walk many batters nor strike out many batters.

Day games have been a strength for the Orioles so far this year, at least for their hitters. They’ve batted .272/.340/.466 as a team in day games, though they’re only 9-10 in day games, so it hasn’t helped them a whole lot.

Game 3: Saturday, June 25, 7:05 Eastern

Chris Tillman (10-1, 3.11 ERA) vs. Jake Odorizzi (3-3, 3.63 ERA)
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This is the Orioles batting practice pullover giveaway game. That’s for the first 20,000 fans, so get there early if you want one, before all of the vultures have a chance to take them and leave.

It’s now Odorizzi’s third full season in the AL East, which doesn’t mean very many Orioles have seen a lot of him. The ones who have, have done well, including Davis (.917 OPS in 24 PA), Jones (.957 OPS in 23 PA), and J.J. Hardy (.816 OPS in 19 PA). The O’s have seen Odorizzi twice this year, scoring five runs in 11 innings against him.

Not to get too carried away or anything, but if Tillman ends up pitching well and wins this game, it’ll probably fire up the old, “Will the Orioles finally have another 20 game winner this year?” talk. I’ll just stop you there: They won’t. But hopefully Tillman wins this game anyway.

Few of the current Rays have seen much of Tillman. Evan Longoria has faced him more than anyone, though, and he’s dominated Tillman in their careers, with a 1.151 OPS in 59 PA that includes seven home runs. Don’t let this be the guy to beat you, Chris.

Game 4: Sunday, June 26, 1:35 Eastern

Tyler Wilson (3-5, 4.19 ERA) vs. Drew Smyly (2-7, 4.78 ERA)
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This is the Mark Trumbo t-shirt giveaway game, but don’t worry - they’ll be given away to all fans!

Worry rather more about the fact that personal Orioles destroyer Drew Smyly is the Rays starter in the game. Smyly has pitched in eight games against the O’s in his career and has a 1.82 ERA - and as mentioned, the Orioles are bad against lefty pitchers again this year.

Smyly’s not doing so well this year compared to past years, with his ERA near 5. He has yet to face the Orioles this year. Hopefully that means his struggles this season mean more than certain O’s struggles against him, like Jones (.389 OPS in 18 PA) and Jonathan Schoop (.481 OPS in 13 PA).

It’s been a tough June for Wilson, taking two “five runs, all earned” starts in his first two outings of the month - but then he came through with the eight shutout innings against Boston, a far better offensive team than the Rays. So who knows what he’ll do this time, really? He has yet to face the Rays this year.

**

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Rays are bad. They aren’t 9.5 games out by accident. Even the Orioles struggling starters should be able to get something good going on in this series.

What’s even more important is that while the Orioles are getting four games against this last place squad, their closest division challengers, the Red Sox, will be facing the Rangers, who have the best record in the AL by a decent margin.

A 2-2 series split would still feel disappointing here. The Orioles need to bank some wins before they go back to playing tough teams again.