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Orioles-Rays series preview: A pivotal showdown for playoff position

The Orioles, half a game behind the Rays for a Wild Card spot, can vault themselves into a postseason berth with a series win. Let’s do this thing.

Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

OK, Camden Chatters, show of hands. When the Orioles’ 2022 schedule was released, how many of you circled the Orioles’ Aug. 12-14 series in Tampa Bay and said, “This is going to be a hugely important series?”

Nobody. Not one person did that. And why would they? Even the most helpless optimist, orange-colored glasses and all, never would’ve predicted the scenario that presents itself this weekend. The Orioles (58-53) enter their three-game series just half a game behind the Rays (58-52) for the third and final AL Wild Card spot. Here it is, August, and the O’s — written off before the season as a hapless non-contender — are playing pivotal games with major postseason implications. My goodness, what a season it’s been.

So why stop now? The Orioles are tantalizingly close to turning their surprise season into a playoff-worthy campaign, and they can grab hold of a Wild Card berth if they’re able to take at least two out of three this weekend. The Orioles’ season series with the Rays — unlike last year’s horrific 1-18 performance against Tampa Bay — has been as evenly matched as imaginable. Each club has eight wins, and their run totals are just six apart (67-61 in favor of the Rays). Perhaps most relevant for this series, though, is that the Rays have won five of the six games at Tropicana Field this year. The Orioles will need to exorcise their Tropicana Field demons, and fast.

This is the final series of the year between the two clubs, so it’s the Orioles’ last chance to control their own destiny against a Rays club that they’ll be fighting tooth and nail down the stretch. It’s now or never, guys. Let’s make it happen.

Game 1: Friday, 7:10 PM, MASN

RHP Austin Voth (2-1, 3.19) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (7-6, 4.05)

Does it feel like the Orioles have faced Corey Kluber every other week? They pretty much have. This will be Kluber’s sixth start this year against the Orioles, representing nearly one-third of his outings. He hasn’t faced any other team more than three times. Similarly, the Orioles haven’t faced any other starting pitcher more than four times.

Still, Kluber’s familiarity with the Orioles hasn’t exactly helped him dominate. The veteran right-hander has just one quality start in his five starts versus the Birds this year, posting a 4.38 ERA overall. The O’s are averaging a baserunner and a half per inning against him, drawing nine walks in 24.2 innings. Anthony Santander has five hits against Kluber this year, including a home run.

Voth, meanwhile, was bumped back a day after the Orioles’ Wednesday rainout disrupted their rotation. The 30-year-old, claimed on waivers June 7, began as a short-term, fill-in starter but has emerged as a full-fledged member of the rotation, though he has yet to top five innings in an outing this year. He’s pitched three times against the Rays this year, once in relief, holding them to one run in eight innings.

Game 2: Saturday, 4:10 PM, MASN 2

TBD vs. LHP Shane McClanahan (10-5, 2.24)

If there’s one main reason to believe the Rays will hold onto a Wild Card spot and advance to the playoffs, it’s the fact that they have the best dang pitcher in the AL starting every fifth game. The Baltimore-born McClanahan has been a force of nature this season, leading the league in WHIP (0.834), H/9 (5.9), and K/BB (7.00) and deservedly starting the All-Star Game for the American League. Simply put, batters just can’t get on base against this guy. And it’s no wonder, with the flamethrowing lefty averaging 96.7 mph on his fastball and also mixing in a killer changeup, curveball, and slider on which hitters are batting .165, .125, and .214, respectively. Good luck!

The O’s haven’t announced a starter as of this writing, but if they keep their rotation in order, it’d be Spenser Watkins’ turn. Watkins would be making his 16th start for the Orioles this year, which matches the number of games he pitched for the Birds last season. One key difference: last year his ERA was 8.07. This year it’s 4.02. So, yeah, I’d say he’s improved. Watkins’ development from no-name minor league journeyman to MLB rotation mainstay, one year after he nearly quit baseball to take a high school coaching job, has been nothing short of remarkable. Though Watkins is striking out batters at exactly the same rate as last year (5.8 K/9), he’s cut three full points off his H/9 (from 12.2 to 9.2) and significantly reduced his homer rate (from 2.3 HR/9 to 0.9).

His two starts against the Rays this year have been interesting, to say the least. In his first one, May 22, he had to leave the game after three batters after taking a line drive off his elbow. The next time, July 26, Watkins surrendered a career-worst 10 hits yet held the Rays to three runs in an eventual O’s win.

Game 3: Sunday, 1:40 PM, MASN 2

TBD vs. RHP Drew Rasmussen (6-4, 2.96)

Rasmussen was a first-round draft pick (31st overall) by Tampa Bay in 2017 but surprisingly did not sign, ending up a sixth-rounder with the Brewers the following year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The Rays eventually got their man anyway, acquiring Rasmussen in the Willy Adames trade with Milwaukee last year. The Rays wasted little time stretching the former reliever into a starter, with excellent results. While Rasmussen doesn’t throw as many innings as a typical starter — averaging 4.8 per game this year in 19 starts — he usually unfurls a solid outing, evidenced by the Rays’ 13-6 record in games he pitches. That includes two victories over the Orioles on April 9 and July 27, though Rasmussen didn’t make it through the fifth on either occasion.

Again, the Orioles haven’t officially announced their starter, but it should be Jordan Lyles’ turn. The veteran right-hander continues to deliver what the Orioles signed him for, eating up innings and giving his team a chance to win despite an AL-worst 145 hits allowed. At 130.1 innings pitched, he’s the only O’s pitcher to top the century mark in innings this year. His first two starts against the Rays this year were a disaster — 11 earned runs in 7.2 innings — but he redeemed himself in his third, throwing 5.2 shutout frames and allowing a season-low three hits July 28.


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

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    3 (Orioles sweep!)
    (24 votes)
  • 51%
    (135 votes)
  • 35%
    (93 votes)
  • 4%
    0 (Orioles get swept)
    (11 votes)
263 votes total Vote Now