Well, the All-Star break is over. We all had our fun. Now let’s get back to the nitty-gritty, with a four-game series between the Orioles and Rays at Camden Yards this weekend. That includes a Saturday doubleheader, made necessary by a May 5 postponement.
The Rays enter the second half with a 52-39 record, and won two games against the Yankees heading into the break to pull within 6.5 games of the AL East lead. The Rays are scheduled for a four-game set in New York after this Orioles series, so they can be excused if the O’s aren’t on the forefront of their minds on this road trip.
University of Maryland alum Brandon Lowe, perhaps the biggest threat to John Means in the AL Rookie of the Year race, could return from the 10-day IL during this series. He’s been shelved with a right shin contusion since fouling a ball off himself in the Rays’ last series against the Orioles. Lowe is hitting .276 with an .862 OPS, 16 homers, and 49 RBIs.
Game 1: Friday, 7:05 PM
RHP Yonny Chirinos (7-4, 3.15) vs. RHP Dylan Bundy (4-10, 4.65)
The 24-year-old Chirinos, in his second year with the Rays, started the season as...what’s the term for a guy who comes in after the opener? “Follower”? Of his first 10 games, Chirinos started four and “followed” in six, pitching at least 3.2 innings in all but one outing. He pitched so well that the Rays decided, “phooey to the opener!” and just stuck him in the rotation outright. Chirinos has rattled off six straight quality starts since June 7. He’s faced the O’s twice this year, beating them with five scoreless innings as a follower on April 17, then throwing a strong 7.1-inning start May 4 but getting beaten by Dylan Bundy.
Which brings us to the Orioles’ starter, who will look to get the better of Chirinos again. Bundy’s calling card this season has been to pitch just well enough to keep his team in the game but not well enough to actually win. His aforementioned May 4 start, when he blanked the Rays for 7.1 innings, was his best outing of the year, and the only one in which he hasn’t been scored upon. Bundy has had trouble going deep into games, going six or more innings in only five of his 17 starts. He ended the first half on a positive note, though, by holding the Blue Jays to one run in 6.2 innings on July 5.
Game 2: Saturday, 1:05 PM (first game of doubleheader)
LHP Brendan McKay (1-0, 2.45) vs. LHP John Means (7-4, 2.50)
Expect Means, the Orioles’ standout All-Star representative, to get a nice ovation from whatever crowd is on hand for his first start of the second half. Means didn’t get to pitch in the Midsummer Classic, but his place on that squad was well-earned. His 2.50 ERA would be the second-best in the AL if he had enough innings to qualify, but he’s 6.1 innings short. Barring any disastrously short outings, Means should pitch his way onto those leaderboards in the coming weeks. His last start of the first half came against these Rays and was a typically stellar one: seven innings, three runs (two earned), no walks, five strikeouts.
McKay, the Rays’ rookie two-way player, has a ways to go to become the next Shohei Ohtani. But he’s off to a good start on the pitching side, posting a 2.45 ERA in his first two major league starts. As a hitter, he’s started one game, and it came against the Orioles on July 1. He went 0-for-4 as the DH.
Game 3: Saturday, 7:05 PM (second game of doubleheader)
RHP Charlie Morton (10-2, 2.32) vs. TBD
Remember when I said Means would have the second-best ERA in the AL when eligible? Well, here’s the guy in front of him. The Rays’ rare foray into big-name free agency has paid off swimmingly with Morton, who is 10-2 with a 2.32 ERA in the first season of a two-year, $30 million deal. At 35 years old, Morton’s strikeout rate (11.3), hit rate (6.4), and WHIP (1.030) all sit at career-best levels, and he’s emerged as the club’s ace after the backslide of 2018 Cy Young winner Blake Snell. In Morton’s only start against the Orioles this year, the man nicknamed Ground Chuck made mincemeat of Baltimore hitters, racking up a season-high 12 strikeouts.
The O’s haven’t decided on a starter yet. They’ll choose from a pool from unexciting options, including Gabriel Ynoa, Asher Wojciechowski, or possibly Jimmy Yacabonis. Get hype!
Game 4: Sunday, 1:05 PM
TBD vs. Andrew Cashner (9-3, 3.83)
The Orioles are unleashing all three of their competent starting pitchers in this series. Be afraid, Rays. Be very afraid. Cashner rounds out the trio, looking to build on a strong first half in which he went 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA. More often than not, a Cashner appearance foretells an Orioles win, a claim that no other O’s pitcher can make. The Birds are 11-6 in Cashner’s starts this year. He’s gotten stronger as the year has gone on, currently riding a streak of five straight quality starts, during which he has a spotless 1.41 ERA. But will the 32-year-old veteran still be an Oriole a month from now? You have to think he’s boosted his trade value somewhat and could be an appealing target for contenders at the deadline.
The Rays haven’t announced a starter for this game. Until told otherwise, I’m just going to assume it’s Ryne Stanek, who’s served as the opener for 25 games this year.
How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Rays?
This poll is closed
4 (Orioles start the second half with a sweep!)
3 (a series win, nice!)
2 (a split, not too shabby)
1 (avoiding a sweep)
0 (Orioles get swept)