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Friday night Orioles game thread: vs. Rays, 7:10

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The best of the AL East meets the rest as the Orioles set off on a seven-game road trek to Tampa Bay and Cleveland. 

Cleveland Indians v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Mirage or miracle? The Orioles have kicked off a hot June with just-good-enough pitching and plenty of offense. Against the American League’s No. 1 team in the Tampa Bay Rays, the team probably won’t sleepwalk into a bunch of easy wins they way they did against Cleveland. The Rays got off to a slowish start, finding themselves dead last in the AL East on May 1, but have since ridden an 11-game winning streak all the way to the top of the division. They’re 16-5 since the last time these two teams played.

As Mark Brown explained in the series preview, the Rays are doing this by scoring a lot and not giving up many runs. Simple! Their offensive success is a little surprising since as a whole, the Rays are not a good-hitting team: they have a .229 batting average, have struck out a league-worst 667 times, and also have gotten caught stealing more than any other AL team, for good measure. However, they’ve have been clutch with runners on base (.245 BA).

On the pitching side, Tampa Bay managed to lose two of its best starters from 2020 over the offseason (Charlie Morton, to the Braves, and Blake Snell, to the Padres) and still have the second-best team AL ERA in 2021, at 3.32, with the fourth-most total strikeouts, too. Tampa Bay does this. One day, hopefully, with some farm-system depth, the Orioles will do it, too.

Tonight, the Rays are starting lefty Ryan Yarbrough, whose 3-3 record and 3.95 ERA look a little better than they would if he were based in Camden Yards: Tropicana Field is a notoriously pitchers-friendly park, and Yarbrough’s defense has picked him up a bit, too (4.28 FIP). Historically, Yarbrough’s role has been as the second pitcher in Tampa Bay’s famous “opener + a bunch of relievers”-plan of pitching. However, in his last start, he went nine full innings for Tampa Bay’s first complete game since 2016. So the 29-year-old may be getting groomed as a real starter, after all.

Matching up against him is another lefty who’s been solid after only recently joining the rotation. After a bad spring relegated him to Triple-A Norfolk, Keegan Akin rejoined the Orioles in a bullpen role, and he struggled initially, with a 6.10 ERA in 10.1 innings as a reliever. But whether it’s his stuff clicking, or him thriving in a starting role, Akin has been immensely better when starting: in two starts totaling 9.2 innings, he’s 0-0 with a 0.93 ERA and eight strikeouts. Two things that may help Akin and the Orioles tonight are the Rays’ relative offensive struggles at home (.673/.738 OPS home/away) and against lefties (.670/.731 OPS LHP/RHP).

The Rays don’t give up easy wins. Let’s see what the Orioles can put together against them tonight.

Orioles lineup

1. Cedric Mullins CF
2. Trey Mancini DH
3. Anthony Santander RF
4. Ryan Mountcastle 1B
5. Austin Hays LF
6. Freddy Galvis SS
7. Maikel Franco 3B
8. Pedro Severino C
9. Pat Valaika 2B

Rays lineup

1. Manuel Margot RF
2. Yandy Díaz 1B
3. Austin Meadows DH
4. Randy Arozarena LF
5. Mike Brosseau 3B
6. Brandon Lowe 2B
7. Taylor Walls SS
8. Mike Zunino C
9. Kevin Kiermaier CF