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Orioles-Rays series preview: The best team in baseball so far awaits

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The Orioles, at 7-10, are better than expected so far. The Rays, at 12-4, have the best record in MLB.

Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

Through the first two-plus weeks of the baseball season, there is only one team in the American League East with a record of .500 or better. That’s the Tampa Bay Rays, who at 12-4 stand atop the entire MLB for their performance so far. Almost as surprising, the closest team chasing them, at 5.5 games back, is the Orioles, who lead the 6-9 Yankees by percentage points.

With only about 10% of the season having been played so far, it’s early to proclaim anyone an unstoppable juggernaut. What can be said for certain is that the Rays have played very well so far. They’ve allowed the fewest runs of any MLB team so far, with just 40 men crossing the plate against the Rays.

When you look at their statistics so far, it’s not a shock how they’ve managed to do this. There are three starting pitchers with an ERA of 2.18 or better and three relievers who have pitched in at least eight games each who have an ERA of 0.00. Their staff as a whole has struck out 169 pitchers in 144 innings while issuing just 40 walks. They have only allowed 12 home runs so far this season.

The Rays offense has not been slouching either. Their hitters are batting a combined .265/.341/.435 with stellar production from six of the nine regular players in their lineup. That’s added up to 78 runs scored, third-most in the AL entering Monday’s play, and an MLB-best +38 run differential. If the Rays keep playing like this while the New York/Boston axis stumbles, they will run away with the division.

Can the Orioles arrest the Rays momentum at all in this series? The team has been playing better on the road so far, with a 6-4 mark away from Baltimore and a 1-6 record at home. It’s too early to mean anything. Still, there’s enough to make you wonder if things are going to be a little better than last year. The O’s are 2-0-1 through their first three road series. In 2018, the team went 3-21-2 in road series.

Game 1 - Tuesday, 7:10pm

Starting pitchers

  • Dylan Bundy: 3 GS, 12.1 IP, 8.76 ERA, 8.66 FIP, 1.784 WHIP, 17 SO, 7 BB
  • Tyler Glasnow: 3 GS, 17 IP, 0.53 ERA, 1.97 FIP, 0.824 WHIP, 21 SO, 3 BB

In a giddy mood after the Orioles beat the Red Sox yesterday, that eternal optimist Rick Dempsey said on MASN’s post-game show, “If we can get Bundy back on track, we’ve got a legitimate chance to win almost every game.” The one thing no one can disagree with in that statement is that Bundy is not currently on track - or at least not on a good track.

Bundy is walking too many people, giving up too many home runs again, and not lasting very long into games due to elevated pitch counts. He is not getting out lefties or righties. It’s bad. Maybe the new Mike Elias-era analytics program will take for him, but it hasn’t happened yet. There is not likely to be any relief for him in facing a Rays lineup that’s been great so far.

Glasnow will be looking to stay in an MLB rotation for a full season for the first time in his career. The 25-year-old righty came to the Rays last July in the Chris Archer trade. The numbers through three starts are nothing short of dazzling. Maybe that’s because he’s amazing now. Maybe it’s because one of his starts was against the White Sox and another was against the Giants. The O’s offense is probably closer to those bottom-feeders than the top of the class.

Game 2 - Wednesday, 7:10

Starting pitchers

  • David Hess: 4 G, 3 GS, 19 IP, 3.32 ERA, 5.10 FIP, 0.895 WHIP, 15 SO, 5 BB
  • TBD, possibly the opener game (last used Friday)

There’s something to be said for first impressions, and in David Hess’s first start of the year, he no-hit the Blue Jays for 6.1 innings before being pulled from the game. Even if his numbers start to turn worse, fans can remember him for that and be happy.

Hess has probably been lucky up to this point in the season. Batters have put the ball on the ground just 23.1% of the time. That many fly balls leave a pitcher homer-prone, and indeed, he’s given up four so far. The overall average on balls in play (BABIP) is .167, which is likely to end up stabilizing about 100 points higher than it is now. Worse luck is coming for him. Hopefully this series doesn’t mark the start of the bad luck.

By the way, the Orioles will get to see another part of that Archer trade in this series. Outfielder Austin Meadows, 24, was the American League Player of the Week for last week and is batting .357/.438/.732 so far this season, with six home runs.

As for the Rays, it’s not clear as of this writing who’s pitching in the rest of the series. They had off days on Thursday and Monday, so they can line up their rotation pretty much how they want, other than Charlie Morton, who pitched on Sunday. If it’s the opener spot, last game they used it that was Ryne Stanek followed by Yonny Chirinos.

Game 3 - Thursday, 7:10

Starting pitchers

  • Andrew Cashner: 4 GS, 20.1 IP, 5.31 ERA, 6.45 FIP, 1.623 WHIP, 11 BB, 9 SO
  • TBD, possibly Blake Snell (last started Saturday)

Cashner seems to be to be the next in a line of Orioles pitchers who makes a great teammate but isn’t so great of a pitcher. Too many walks, not enough strikeouts, regrettable homer-prone tendencies after a pre-Orioles track record of not giving up so many homers. That he posted a 5+ ERA last season while averaging a little bit more than 5.1 innings per start felt deserved. Here in 2019, he’s off to more of the same.

Snell would be on regular rest for this game due to the off days. The reigning AL Cy Young winner has picked up in 2019 a lot like where he left off 2018, with 36 strikeouts already in 25 innings, and only four walks. As starting pitching matchups go, Cashner vs. Snell is a real test of whether the reverse lock theory has any merit.

**

The Orioles have had their share of embarrassing defeats so far this season. They entered Monday’s games with the most runs allowed of any MLB team. They have also earned their share of resilient, pleasant surprise victories.

It’s not a fluke that they have yet to lose a road series when they were atrocious on the road last year. This team may still be bad, but it feels different and better so far, even when they lose. Their outfielders are generally capable of moving long distances to catch balls or cut them off from the gap. The infielders can, by and large, turn double plays. The catchers seem way more engaged and supportive of the pitchers.

The reality is that the Orioles are probably headed for their first series loss right now - but then, that’s what I thought on Opening Day, too, and they came away from New York with two wins. You never really know.

Stats retrieved from Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and ESPN.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Rays?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    0 (The Orioles get swept)
    (46 votes)
  • 59%
    1
    (152 votes)
  • 16%
    2
    (43 votes)
  • 6%
    3 (The Orioles sweep the Rays)
    (16 votes)
257 votes total Vote Now