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Orioles-Rays series preview: Trying to chase down a playoff team

The Orioles are five games behind the Rays as this four-game series gets under way.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off their action-packed—if somewhat disappointing—series loss to the Yankees this past weekend, the Orioles welcome Tampa Bay to Camden Yards this week. The Rays were the Orioles’ last opponents before the All-Star break, in a series that was full of broken streaks. In the first game, Tampa put an end to the Orioles’ 10-game winning streak with a 5-4 win. The Orioles bounced back in game two with a 6-4, extra-innings win, snapping Tampa’s 11-game home winning streak against Baltimore.

While winning a series against the Yankees would’ve been nice, they are not the Orioles’ true competition. The Rays, on the other hand, both stand directly in front of the Orioles in their quest for a Wild Card berth and offer the perfect barometer for this rebuild. Tampa is on a streak of three straight playoff appearances—including a World Series appearance in 2020. They build their success from within, winning in spite of consistently having one of baseball’s lowest payrolls. They are the model for everything that this generation of Orioles baseball wants to and can achieve.

Winning a second-half home series against a team like the Rays is not only the type of thing that playoff contenders do, but it’s also something these Orioles need to make a habit of doing.

Game 1: Monday, July 25, 7:05 pm ET, MASN

Starting pitchers: Austin Voth (1-1, 6.38 ERA) vs. Corey Kluber (6-5, 3.73 ERA)

The first game sees a pitching rematch from a Father’s Day showdown that the Orioles won 2-1. That game marked the first time the Orioles deployed Voth as a starter, and as such the veteran righty was limited to 2.2 innings of work. He was largely effective against the Rays that day, allowing three hits and no runs while striking out four. Including that game, Voth has a 3.50 ERA in five starts, with a strikeout per inning.

Voth’s last two starts have been slightly less successful, as the Orioles’ staff have stretched him into the fifth inning. That may be due to bad luck and less than stellar fielding, though, as his FIP at 2.90 is almost two runs lower than his ERA in these starts—to go along with an impressive .222 BAA. The former National will hope to get better support against a surging Rays team, who have put together season highs in batting average and OPS throughout July.

Despite taking a loss in Camden Yards last month, Kluber was still very effective throughout his six innings of work. Kluber never topped 90 mph with any of his pitches, but the constant mix of sinkers, cutters, curveballs and changeups kept Orioles hitters off balance. The O’s only had three hard-hit balls in the matchup with the former Cy Young winner—although one was a home run that Anthony Santander almost deposited on Eutaw Street.

Game 2: Tuesday, July 26, 7:05 PM ET, MASN

Starting Pitchers: Spenser Watkins (3-1, 3.93 ERA) vs. Shane McClanahan (10-3, 1.71 ERA)

Over the last month plus, Spenser Watkins has arguably been the Orioles’ best starting pitcher. Perhaps that provides Birdland with a bit of comfort because he’s facing off against the best pitcher in the AL. Over his last four starts, Watkins has held opponents to one on his way to a 1.19 ERA over 22.2 innings. Watkins will hope this success carries over to this series against the Rays, as his last outing against Tampa was about as bad as it can get.

After giving up three straight singles to begin the O’s/Rays matchup on May 22, Watkins was pulled from the game and would go on the later injured list. His final stat line from that game ended up as zero outs recorded while giving up three runs—so not the best for his ERA.

Where Watkins has found success since coming off the injured list is by relying more on his cutter and less on his slider. While his cutter/slider ratio had remained mostly even before his injury, it has now diverged to the point that—throughout July—Watkins has thrown the cutter 33% of the time and the slider only 15%. This has seen the effectiveness of both pitches increase dramatically. While the xBA on Watkins’ cutter used to be above .400—with the slider right around .270—those numbers have now dropped to an xBA of .162 on the cutter and .209 on the slider.

As for McClanahan, there aren’t a lot of holes that you can poke in his game. He’s the clear-cut AL Cy Young frontrunner for a reason. No left-handed starter in baseball throws harder. His K%, Hard Hit% and xBA against are all in the 90th or above percentile. So basically, McClanahan throws really hard, strikes out everyone, and doesn’t get hit.

The Orioles haven’t faced the Baltimore-born McClanahan since Opening Day, when he struck out seven batters over 4.1 shutout innings. The Rays may have been monitoring his early pitch count, as he only threw 68 pitches. Overall, McClanahan has thrown 90-100 pitches in 12 of 18 starts. One bit of good news for the Orioles is that the team has changed since that Opening Day outing, in part by adding Adley Rutschman and in part by overall growth.

Game 3: Wednesday, July 27, 7:05 pm ET, MASN

Starting Pitchers: Tyler Wells (7-6, 3.69 ERA) vs. Drew Rasmussen (6-3, 3.13 ERA)

The Rays have been a thorn in Tyler Wells’ side all season—something he’ll look to correct when Tampa comes to town this week. In three previous starts this year, Wells was rocked to the tune of a 7.50 ERA. The biggest problem for Wells against the Rays has been giving up the big inning. In his first start of the season, Wells was chased in the second inning after a Brandon Lowe home run capped a four-run inning. In his first rematch with Tampa, he lasted until the fifth when a three-run home run from Mike Zunino ended his start. Then, in his third go around with the Rays, Wells gave up back-to-back doubles in the sixth before being pulled—in an inning that saw the Rays score four runs.

Like McClanahan, Rasmussen only has one appearance against the Orioles this season, also in the first series of the year. Despite only going four innings, giving up two runs and striking out three, Rasmussen did enough to put the Rays in position to earn a 5-3 win. Rasmussen will probably get to face off against his former Oregon State teammate Rutschman in this one. The pair are two of five big leaguers from the 2017 Beavers squad.

Game 4: Thursday, July 28, 12:35 pm ET, MASN

Starting Pitchers: Jordan Lyles (6-8, 4.79 ERA) vs. TBD

Forget the yet-to-be-determined pitching matchup or that Jordan Lyles is coming off a mediocre start against the Yankees where he allowed his first Camden Yards home run. Thursday’s matchup is the inaugural celebration of Mo Gaba Day for the Orioles. The Orioles Hall of Fame member and Baltimore sports superfan is an example that we can all still follow in our Orioles fandom and in life in general. He never let any of the hardships that life threw at him damper his spirit or his enjoyment of all the wonderful things that come with being a sports fan.

Gaba’s family and members from his care team at Johns Hopkins will be honored at Thursday’s game, as all of Baltimore remembers Mo on the second anniversary of his death. While we certainly hope that the emotions from this celebration are enough to propel the Orioles to a win in the series finale, more important is to take time and just enjoy all the great things about the 2022 Orioles—because that’s what Mo would be doing.


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

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    4 (Bring out the brooms!)
    (22 votes)
  • 20%
    (42 votes)
  • 52%
    (107 votes)
  • 14%
    (29 votes)
  • 1%
    0 (Kiss the Wild Card dream goodbye)
    (4 votes)
204 votes total Vote Now