For at least half of the season, it seemed almost inevitable that the Orioles and Rays would meet back up with one another in the playoffs after dueling for the division for much of the year. That the AL East runner-up would win the wild card series was taken for granted in these imaginings. Reality had other ideas, as the Rays were snuffed out by the Texas Rangers in consecutive games to have their season end. The Orioles will play the Rangers starting on Saturday.
With the Rays losing 4-0 on Tuesday and not scoring until the seventh inning on Wednesday, they came one out away from tying a record for consecutive scoreless innings for an offense in postseason play. That dated back to last year, when the Rays scored one run in two games against the Guardians. They ended up being beaten in Game 2, 7-1.
The Rays lost two or more games in a row 14 separate times in the course of getting to their 99-63 record in the regular season. In the regular season, it is barely worth remarking on back-to-back losses. In a best-of-three series, that’s all you get. At this moment, seven consecutive Rays losses in the postseason is the longest active postseason losing streak. With the Orioles at five dating back to 2014, we can’t gloat too much on this one.
It’s probably not actually the case that the Rays wore themselves out in an ultimately futile effort to try to catch back up to the Orioles, but if it’s fun for you to tell yourself that, go ahead. I still believe that the 2012 Yankees exhausted every last bit of energy barely beating the Orioles in that year’s ALDS and that’s why they got swept by the Tigers in the ALCS. It is less fun to think of it this way when the O’s must now play the team that wiped the Rays, rather than when it’s about the team that just beat them.
One big hope for this series for Orioles fans had to be that the losing team would tire out the winner. The Rays were no help in this regard as they got rolled by the Rangers. Texas Game 1 starter Jordan Montgomery went 7 innings, and in Game 2, Nathan Eovaldi went 6.2. Tampa did not force Texas to use its #3 starting pitcher at all. Relievers were not heavily used. The Rangers did not get especially stressed.
Although the Rangers blew some games over their final weekend to miss out on the AL West crown, this is not a team that can be taken lightly. They were the most prolific offense in the league in just about every category, including all three “triple slash” stats of batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage, as well as runs scored and home runs hit. The team dropped 881 runs on opponents in the regular season. That’s 74 more runs than the Orioles scored.
Last offseason’s big free and pitching signing, Jacob deGrom, and this trade deadline’s big acquisition Max Scherzer, will not be pitching in the series against the Orioles. They do not lack for star power even despite this. $325 million man Corey Seager, signed before last season, posted a 6.9 bWAR this season, and his double play partner Marcus Semien, given $175 million two offseasons ago, was ahead of him at 7.5 WAR.
That’s not even getting into guys like Adolis García (39 regular season dingers) and rookie call-up Evan Carter, who’s making like Gunnar Henderson did at the end of last season, except with his team actually in the postseason. Carter, 21, reached base in his first six postseason plate appearances, including a home run in Wednesday’s miniseries-sealing win.
The Orioles announced earlier on Wednesday that Game 1 of the series will be scheduled to start around 1pm. Game times for the remainder of the series will be announced later. Game 2 is set for Sunday, with Game 3 in Texas on Tuesday. Game 4, if needed, is Wednesday, also in Texas, and if it goes five games, the final one will be played back in Baltimore next Friday.
Now that the team has an opponent, perhaps they will soon follow with announcements about the starting pitchers who will be lined up for the best-of-five division series. These two teams split their regular season games, with three wins by each team.