After losing their first six games this season against the Rays, Baltimore will look to flip the script starting tonight in Florida.
Fresh off of a series win over Kansas City, the Orioles are at Tropicana Field to face the Rays in their second series of the second half. It’s one thing to beat up on the lowly Royals, but the O’s will have a bigger challenge versus the 55-38 Rays, owners of a +79 run differential so far this season. The cellar-dwelling Orioles are carrying a -136 run differential into the series.
Tampa has owned the O’s so far this season, having outscored the Birds 48-21 en route to six wins and zero losses. Last year, the Rays won the season series — six games to four — and outscored the O’s 35-32.
Despite a .230 team batting average that ranks 25th in the majors this year, the Rays have scored the seventh most runs (454). Second baseman Brandon Lowe leads the team in home runs (21), but has a .212 batting average. Catcher Mike Zunino is close behind with 19 long balls and a .197 BA. First baseman Yandy Diaz leads the Rays in AVG (.254) and OBP (.375), while OF/DH Austin Meadows leads in SLG (.467). And Tampa isn’t afraid to create some havoc on the basepaths, as Randy Arozarena and Brett Phillips have double-digit stolen bases with 11 apiece. Manuel Margot (9) is not far behind.
The Orioles will get their first look at Rays uber-prospect Wander Franco, who was promoted to the big league club on June 22 after slashing .315/.367/.586 at Triple-A this year. But he’s struggled since joining the Rays, as evidenced by his .216/.275/.392 line in 74 at-bats.
As far as pitching goes, the Rays rank eighth in baseball in ERA (3.59), seventh in strikeouts (873), third in WHIP (1.15), and have surrendered the third-fewest walks (257). The Orioles lineup will have their work cut out for them over the next three days in Tampa.
Game 1: Monday, 7:10 PM
RHP Spenser Watkins (1-0, 1.74 ERA) vs. LHP Ryan Yarbrough (6-3, 4.30 ERA)
Orioles rookie Spenser Watkins will look to build on his first two outings where he allowed one run over five innings and one run over 4.1 innings. The underlying numbers aren’t good for the 28-year-old right-hander though, as his 1.74 ERA doesn’t line up with his 5.01 FIP. He’s been able to overcome his wildness (5.2 BB/9) up to this point, but he will face one of his toughest challenges yet against the plucky Rays at the Trop.
Watkins will be opposed by Ryan Yarbrough in the series opener. In two starts this season against Baltimore, the Rays’ left-hander has allowed eight runs (five earned) in 12 innings. And a quick look at his splits shows a better ERA on the road (3.81) than at home (4.87). In his last four appearances, including three starts, the lefty has a 5.00 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 18 innings pitched.
Game 2: Tuesday, 7:10 PM
LHP John Means (4-2, 2.28 ERA) vs. LHP Shane McClanahan (3-3, 4.05 ERA)
Ace left-hander John Means makes his much-anticipated return to the Orioles rotation in the middle game of the three-game series in Tampa. Means’ stellar 2021 season has been on hold since June 6 due to a left shoulder strain. His recent rehab appearances in the minor leagues looked like this: one run in two innings with Aberdeen, four runs (two earned) in three innings with Bowie, and two runs in three innings with Norfolk.
The Rays will throw Shane McClanahan on the mound in game 2, with the 24-year-old coming off a no-decision against Toronto on July 9 in which he allowed one run over four innings. In his last three starts, McClanahan has a 4.11 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. Fun fact: the Rays left-hander was born in Baltimore but grew up in Florida and played his high school ball at Cape Coral HS. This will be his first appearance against the Orioles.
Game 3: Wednesday, 12:10 PM
TBD vs. TBD
Neither team has announced their starting pitcher for the series finale at this point. Some potential options for the O’s are Thomas Eshelman and Jorge Lopez.