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Orioles-Rays series preview: Looking to do better than 1-18 this year

The Orioles season begins against the division opponent they only beat once last year.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles
“Wait, we lost HOW many games against this team last year?”
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

For fans of teams who aren’t in the middle of multi-year rebuilding efforts that feature minimal attempts to improve the big league roster externally, Opening Day is a time to dream about what your team might be able to do this year. When everyone is starting off 0-0, you can always indulge a little dream about your team winning it all - sneaking in to the expanded playoffs, knocking off better teams in a short series, and hoisting a trophy.

This source of joy has been lost on Orioles fans for a few years now. Even if you’re the kind of optimist who can believe that the team is getting close, the idea that this is going to start in April is a farfetched one. Yet even a bad team can hope on Opening Day to win their first game and spend at least a day in first place. With a season-beginning sweep of the Red Sox last year, the O’s ended up spending a week in first. That was fun!

It is hard to hope for even that much this year. The Orioles season begins against the Tampa Bay Rays, against whom the O’s rather infamously went 1-18 last year. Their near-total failure against the Rays, and significantly less failure against the Yankees (8-11) was essentially the difference in the AL East last year. A whole lot of the same Orioles are back. The only outside addition to the starting rotation is Jordan Lyles, who had a 5.15 ERA last season. It’s... well, you know.

The Orioles do have this much going for them: Their Opening Day starter, John Means, threw a no-hitter last year. That’s fun! His 3.62 ERA and 1.030 WHIP for the season were great results. Was he good against the Rays? Well, no. They got him for 20 runs, 16 earned, in 26.2 innings over five starts. In two games pitched at Tropicana Field, he gave up four home runs over only nine innings.

If you want or need to believe that better times are coming, you can at least look to some positive-ish comments made by GM Mike Elias yesterday. Elias has been reliably trying to avoid creating any hype or expectations for the MLB team of any kind since arriving, brushing off questions about when the team might be ready to “flip the switch,” as he once put it, towards winning again.

Obviously, they didn’t flip the switch going into this year either. That said, Elias does sound at least a little sunny about the near future for the first time I can think of. Talking to O’s reporters yesterday, he said, among other things, that “we’re very hopeful we can take a step forward this year” and that the Orioles are “very close to getting back in the fight.” Very close means not yet! It’s something, even if it doesn’t mean much for hope on Opening Day.

All three games in this series will be broadcast on MASN and across the Orioles Radio Network. Those in Rays television territory can find it on Bally Sports Sun. For those out of either market, Saturday’s game is supposed to be carried on MLB Network.

Game 1 - Friday, April 8, 3:10

Starting pitchers: John Means, Shane McClanahan

This marks two Opening Day starts in a row for Means. You have to go back 50 years to find another Orioles lefty to make consecutive Opening Day starts; Dave McNally did this from 1969-71. Last year, Means started his season with seven shutout innings against the Red Sox. If he wants to run that back against the Rays this year, I sure won’t complain. As noted above, this would require him to do much better than he did last year against the Rays.

With the pitchers behind him in the rotation being what they are, the Orioles are really going to be leaning on Means to have at least one game out of five where they’re not blasting the bullpen. He was able to average 5.2 innings per start last season. That’s not quite saving the bullpen territory but it’s not destroying the bullpen either. Maybe the biggest hope for Orioles fans for this opening series might be to have the starting pitchers able to go deep enough that they don’t have to make multiple roster moves for relief reinforcements before the team even gets to Baltimore.

The local angle for this game is that the Rays pitcher, McClanahan, was born in Baltimore. Getting to start against the team based where you used to live on Opening Day is probably at least a little bit cool. It almost certainly means nothing about how McClanahan will pitch. Still just 24 years old, the lefty posted a 3.43 ERA in 25 games in his rookie season last year. In relatively small sample sizes, his splits for lefty batters were similar to his splits for righty batters.

Game 2 - Saturday, April 9, 1:10

Starting pitchers: Jordan Lyles, Drew Rasmussen

One of the truest indicators of a lack of quality on the Orioles pitching staff is the fact that Lyles is their #2 guy. A broader indictment of the entire Elias era of the Orioles is that Lyles’s $7 million salary for this season is the most that has been given to a free agent since he took over. He has a career 5.21 ERA and was very close to that last year, at 5.15. He gave up 38 home runs.

There was continual noise made about Lyles by O’s media as an innings eater based on his averaging six innings per game started last season, the only time he’d ever topped 150 innings pitched. I do not have high hopes. With the shortened spring training, we should probably not expect even an “innings eater” to pitch more than five innings. Maybe they’ll be five decent innings.

Rasmussen, a 26-year-old righty, was traded from the Brewers to the Rays in a two-for-two swap in the middle of last season. He pitched in relief ten times and started ten times for Tampa, posting a 2.44 ERA and 0.966 WHIP in the AL. Not bad. That included three outings against the O’s, where he held the team to a .200/.265/.200 batting line. One might say there is room for the Orioles to improve. Whether the game 2 lineup is up for that improvement on Saturday, I guess we’ll find out.

Game 3 - Sunday, April 10, 1:10

Starting pitchers: Tyler Wells, Corey Kluber

Of all the storylines there are with the Orioles 28-man roster to begin the season, it’s the Wells experiment as a starting pitcher that might be the most interesting to me. Rule 5 picks, as Wells was last year, are generally fringe players by default. That the O’s looked to have a possibly interesting back-end reliever in Wells at the end of last season would have been noteworthy enough. Now he’s in the rotation!

Spring training performance is only worth so much in even an ordinary year, which this was not. Yet with nothing else recent to go on, it is something to look at. Wells allowed just two earned runs in 11.1 spring innings. It is hard to even know what to expect from him heading into the regular season. He is not stretched out fully yet and will probably be on an abbreviated pitch count that could leave him at four innings at most. The experiment will not be a success or failure based on one outing, but it would be nice for an early success.

Kluber pitched last season with the Yankees, where he finished with an acceptable-looking 3.83 ERA in 16 starts. However, he missed all of June and July and most of August last season and ended up with a 5.40 ERA over his last six games. The Rays were unconcerned by the finish, offering Kluber an $8 million contract. He will be pitching in this game on his 36th birthday. As he’s gotten older, he’s relied less on his fastball, now leaning more on a cutter, curveball, and changeup.

**

1-18 against this team last year! I am still in disbelief even though I watched it happen. That’s hard to have happen, even when a very bad team faces a very good team. The Rays are mostly projected to be a mid-80s wins team for 2022. Hopefully if they overachieve their sole source of overachieving is not how much they are able to beat up on the 2022 Orioles.

After this series, it will be about six weeks before the O’s play the Rays again. I am curious how much roster turnover there might be just between now and then. I’m even more curious how different the team will look between now and the final Rays series of the year, which is August 12-14.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in their season-opening series against the Rays?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    0 (The Orioles are swept)
    (20 votes)
  • 62%
    1
    (71 votes)
  • 14%
    2
    (16 votes)
  • 5%
    3 (The Orioles sweep)
    (6 votes)
113 votes total Vote Now