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Orioles-Rays series preview: Beware the trap series!

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The Orioles are coming off a 6-3 road trip to begin an 11-game homestand. But they can’t overlook the last place Rays.

Matt Wieters scores against the Rays.
Matt Wieters scores against the Rays on September 6.
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

On paper, it’s perfect. The Orioles are coming off a triumphant 6-3 road trip in which they won series in both Detroit and Boston as well as against their next opponent, the Rays. They return home, where they are good, for four games against these last place Rays, with designs on the division lead or at least building their lead for the top wild card spot.

Looming right after this series is an even more crucial four game showdown against the Red Sox where the Orioles really could pick off the AL East lead from their northern foes. But they absolutely cannot overlook the Rays series in front of them. If they stumble against this lower-tier opponent, much of the hard work they’ve done over the last week and a half will be rendered less meaningful.

The Rays aren’t great at home and they’re even worse on the road, with a 27-43 record outside of the Trop. The Orioles are 11-4 against Tampa Bay so far this season. Now is the time to pile it on, put the pedal to the metal, make some hay, grab the bull by the horns, lock S-foils in attack position and accelerate to attack speed, or whatever similar phrase you prefer to employ. It is go time.

Game 1 - Thursday, 7:05

Yovani Gallardo (5-7, 5.44 ERA) vs. Blake Snell (5-8, 3.62 ERA)

Nothing to try to entice the home crowd out to hail the Orioles on their triumphant return to Baltimore like the prospect of getting to go see Yovani Gallardo pitch. The good news is that four of Gallardo’s last seven starts have been quality starts - six innings or more, three earned runs or fewer. But one of those starts saw him give up seven earned runs in 1.1 innings, so it didn’t help his season ERA much.

Gallardo’s last start was against these same Rays in the Trop, where he held them to just one earned run over five innings. That’s not great, but you will take that from Gallardo every time, especially with a full bullpen in September to eat up the remaining innings.

The Rays starter, Snell, is a lefty, which always seems to spell trouble for the Orioles. Snell has walked 45 batters in his 77 big league innings, which is one of those facts that might actually be bad for the aggressive O’s. Also, Snell has that 3.62 ERA despite an unlucky-seeming .352 BABIP. Is he due to regress to the mean?

Game 2 - Friday, 7:05

Ubaldo Jimenez (7-11, 5.98 ERA) vs. Chris Archer (8-18, 4.05 ERA)

Being a baseball blogger, I’m definitely supposed to be way too jaded to ever write anything such as, “Ubaldo Jimenez will be inspired making his first start after becoming an American citizen,” so I’m not going to say that.

What I will say is that Jimenez has been pitching like a different and better version of himself in the four starts he’s made since rejoining the starting rotation. He’s lowered his ERA by nearly a full run, has only walked six batters in those four starts, and has held opponents to a .495 OPS over those four games.

Two starts ago, Jimenez pitched a complete game against these same Rays. That was awesome and I kind of still can’t believe that it actually happened. Ubaldo Jimenez pitched a complete game! Hopefully he can do as well against the Rays on Friday night.

Don’t let the W-L record fool you, Archer has been trending in the right direction since the All-Star break, with a 3.11 ERA in 11 post-break starts. He’s riding a streak of three straight quality starts and mostly keeps losing games because his team’s offense isn’t very good. I won’t complain if that continues this weekend.

Game 3 - Saturday, 7:05

Chris Tillman (16-5, 3.68 ERA) vs. Matt Andriese (7-7, 4.46 ERA)

If the Tillman who pitched very well against the Rays on either April 8, April 27, or July 16 shows up for this game, or the Tillman who kept the Tigers in check in his most recent start, that will be plenty good for the Orioles. Not so much if the Tillman who gave up six runs in five innings in the nightcap of a June 25 doubleheader shows up - although the Orioles did go on to win that game.

No player has faced Tillman more than Evan Longoria, who has hit seven home runs in 65 PA and has a 1.038 OPS against Tillman. So, don’t let him be the one to beat you, Tillman.

Andriese has been between the bullpen and the rotation this year. Since getting put back into the rotation at the start of August, Andriese has made eight starts and put up a 7.62 ERA.

That includes Andriese start where he has gone more than six innings and four starts where he gave up five runs or more. That’s what I like to see! But then again, the Orioles offense stunk against Zach Neal and Ross Detwiler. Beware the crappy pitcher.

Game 4 - Sunday, 1:35

TBD vs. Jake Odorizzi (9-6, 3.81 ERA)

Is this going to be Wade Miley? I have a bad feeling it’s going to be Wade Miley. Though Miley is really, really due to turn in a decent outing in an O’s uniform, and the Rays will certainly be a far less tougher team for him to draw than the Red Sox were.

It maybe has to be Miley. They surely can’t throw Dylan Bundy in this spot without giving him an extra day of rest. Vance Worley? Tyler Wilson? It’s nobody who’s going to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling.

The Orioles faced Odorizzi in the Trop back on September 6 and obliterated him for seven runs in four innings. Again I say, more of that, please. Overall, though, Odorizzi has been very good since the All-Star break, with a 2.78 ERA even despite the one bad outing.

This series is just as big as any on the last road trip. If the Orioles play to their capabilities, they will have an easy time. That’s the trick, isn’t it?