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Orioles-Rays series preview: The AL East isn’t exactly fair

The Orioles are scuffling, and news flash: Tampa Bay is still good.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays
Manuel Margot is out with an injury for this series, but if a lot of Rays hitters slide safely into third base, it’ll still be a long series.
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

It seems just mean that, after facing New York, the hottest team in baseball, the Orioles, losers of six of their last seven games, have to turn around and play the Tampa Bay Rays. Last season’s AL East champs, the Rays went 100-62 and—in case you forgot—beat the Orioles an astonishing 18 times out of 19 that they played. Headed into this season, most pundits picked the Rays to finish second in the division, but still make the playoffs. So far, that assessment looks good: the Rays trail the Yankees by 5.5 games, but with a 23-15 record, they’re no slouches, either. Their 3.47 team ERA is fifth-best in the AL, and as a unit, they’re hitting .239, also fifth-best.

The last time these two teams faced off was at the start of the season, April 8-10 in Tampa Bay. The Orioles got swept in three games, losing 2-1, 5-3, and 8-0, respectively, against a Rays’ starting rotation of Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, and Corey Kluber. Meanwhile, the O’s sent out John Means, Jordan Lyles, and Tyler Wells.

Previewing that series, Mark Brown wrote: “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.”

Answer: Not as much as an Orioles fan might have liked. Especially because a lot of the turnover has been of the bad sort, with two starting pitchers down for the season (Means and Chris Ellis), two relievers getting cut (Travis Lakins Sr. and Paul Fry), and two hitters sent to Triple-A due to ineffectiveness (D.J. Stewart and Kélvin Gutiérrez). There are no Adley, G-Rod, or DL Hall sightings just yet. Then again, Tyler Nevin, Kyle Bradish, Rylan Bannon, and Nick Vespi signal the tip of the spear, prospect-promotions-wise. Plus, Félix Bautista and Cionel Pérez have gone from dark horses to bullpen stoppers, while Keegan Akin continues his renaissance as a shutdown reliever.

None of this changes the fact that the Orioles are still 1-21 against the Rays going back to 2021. But with Kyle Bradish and Tyler Wells taking a turn against the Rays this weekend, the Orioles stand a chance to be more than just cannon fodder.

Game 1 - Friday, May 20, 7:05 ET

RHP Tyler Wells (1-3, 4.18 ERA, 19 K) v. LHP Jalen Beeks (1-0, 1.72 ERA, 17 K)

DraftKings odds: Orioles +1.5 runs is a -160 bet, or Orioles to win is +110

The Tyler Wells experiment has had its predictable ups-and-downs so far this season, but the 27-year-old is showing strong stuff and helping to fill the void left by Means’ and Ellis’ season-ending surgeries. Wells’ first start of the season was his worst, and also came against Tampa Bay: he was knocked around to the tune of four runs in 1.2 innings. However, take that unfortunate occurrence out and Wells has a 3.08 ERA over his last six starts. Lefties are hitting Wells much better than righties (.326 to .258 BA), so expect to see a southpaw-heavy lineup against him.

Rays manager Kevin Cash is up to some trickery here, as this would ordinarily be the 6’5 lefty Ryan Yarbrough’s turn in the rotation. However, since coming back from a groin injury on May 3rd, Yarbrough has struggled (1.727 WHIP), so apparently the idea is to use Jalen Beeks as an opener (his first start since 2019), then bring in Yarbrough as bulk relief. The lefty Beeks has a brief past with some O’s hitters: Trey Mancini is 5-for-7 against him, Cedric Mullins 1-for-4, and Anthony Santander 3-for-4.

Game 2 - Saturday, May 21, 7:05 ET

RHP Kyle Bradish (1-1, 5.06 ERA, 22 K) v. LHP Jeffrey Springs (1-1, 1.66 ERA, 20 K)

After a huge 11-strikeout performance against the Cardinals on May 10, Bradish’s last turn against the Yankees was shakier, with four runs allowed, three on a home run. Bradish has surrendered a long ball in each of his four starts this season, but he’s having no trouble racking up strikeouts (9.28 K/9). This will be the first time any Rays hitters see Bradish. I’m excited for this matchup.

Jeffrey Springs makes his fifth career MLB start as the Rays apparently build him up in a starter role: in Springs’ last six outings, he’s thrown 0.2, 2.0, 2.2, 3.1, 4.0, and 4.2 innings, respectively. The lefty has a three-pitch fastball, changeup and slider mix, and excellent numbers when it comes to walks (1.25 BB/9) and expected average against (.215). No Oriole has faced Springs more than four times and only Rougned Odor, Anthony Santander, and Ramón Urías have hits against him.

Game 3 - Sunday, May 22, 1:35 ET

RHP Spenser Watkins (0-1, 5.10 ERA, 14 K) v. RHP Corey Kluber (1-2, 4.29 ERA, 35 K)

Corey Kluber shut down the Orioles the last time he faced them in April, pitching 4.2 scoreless, with four walks and five strikeouts. Since then, it’s been somewhat hit-or-miss for the two-time Cy Young winner. On May 10, Kluber got absolutely shellacked by the Angels, giving up eight runs in three innings, but he rebounded with a six-inning, two-run performance on May 16 against Detroit. Now 36, Kluber relies mostly on his cutter, sinker, and curveball, but so far, batters are feasting on these three pitches, with a xBA of .297, .379, and .305 against each, respectively. Chirinos has a lifetime .250 average against Kluber, Austin Hays a career .286 average with two dingers and Trey Mancini is averaging .200 against Kluber in 10 at-bats. Cedric Mullins is 4-for-10, Odor 4-for-11 with two home runs, Chris Owings 3-for-6, and Ramón Urías 1-for-3.

Another pitcher trending in the wrong direction is Spenser Watkins, whose peripherals have gone from average to bad over his last three starts as he’s allowed three, seven, and two runs, respectively. Watkins imploded last week against St. Louis before gritting out four two-run innings this week against New York—not a bad result against the AL’s best offense all things considering, and one that’s enough to keep him in the rotation for now, but you have to imagine the Orioles would like to see him complete five innings now and again. This is Watkins’ first time facing Tampa Bay this season, so let’s hope the whirlie is in fighting shape. Randy Arozarena has smoked Watkins in the past, with a .571 average in 7 at-bats. Ji-Man Choi is 2-for-4 against Watkins, Wander Franco is 3-for-9, and catcher Francisco Mejía is 2-for-3.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    0 (The Orioles will be swept)
    (46 votes)
  • 51%
    1
    (105 votes)
  • 19%
    2
    (39 votes)
  • 6%
    3 (The Orioles will sweep)
    (14 votes)
204 votes total Vote Now