For the first time in 2021, after 39 games, the Orioles face off against an A.L. East opponent that’s not named the Yankees or Red Sox. That team: the Tampa Bay Rays.
The defending A.L. Champion Rays come to town for a mid-week three-game series. On the mound for the Orioles will be Matt Harvey, John Means, and Dean Kremer. This will be Means’ first start since May 11 against the Mets. He was scheduled to pitch May 16 against the Yankees but was scratched to give him some extra rest.
Now sitting at 17-23, the Orioles hold the fifth place spot in the A.L. East, while the Rays are only a few games ahead in third at 23-19.
As we know, the Rays have a stable of arms that can and will stifle opposing hitters at any point. However, the Oriole offense has been heating up the last few games, largely in part to Trey Mancini. This series is certainly winnable, and as our bold prediction, John Means in game two and the short fences of Camden Yards will help the Orioles win this set.
In order to come away with a series victory, the Orioles must follow these Keys to the Series:
1. Run Suppport
OK, we get it. This key has made plenty of appearances. And until this key is not a relevant topic for this Orioles team, it will continue to be brought up. The Rays are a fantastic pitching team; however, they aren’t too fond of scoring a lot of runs themselves. The Rays have scored just three runs or less in 19 of their 42 games, just a little less than half of the time. Of those 19 games, they have a record of 5-14. In other words, the Rays haven’t done well this year in close games and ones where their offense doesn’t explode.
With Means set to pitch in this series and the Orioles bullpen, that is currently top five in ERA, the Birds have a good chance to hold this Rays offense down. In turn, just a small amount of run support can go a long way for the Orioles. The goal should be four runs per game in this series, and, believe it or not, that is actually very attainable for this offense.
2. Get up early
The Rays pitching staff, again, is stellar. Going into any point of these games with a deficit is how the Rays thrive against other teams. A big key is putting pressure on their pitchers early. Easier said than done, however, doing this will not only help our offense but will greatly help the Orioles’ pitching. When you consider the Rays’ struggles in low scoring games, the offense will almost by itself determine what kind of game the Rays must play. When they play from behind, they haven’t done well.
3. Let’s just keep our “closers” away from save situations
We all love César Valdez’s dead fish changeup. It’s beautiful! However, Valdez is, in all honesty, not a great closing pitcher. With three blown saves in 11 attempts by Valdez, the best chance for the Orioles is to enter the late game with our bullpen pitching from a lead that is more than three runs. That also goes back to the second key, getting up early, and the first, how the Rays struggle when down in close games. If the Rays have to climb back against arms like Tanner Scott, Paul Fry, or maybe even Bruce Zimmermann out of the pen, we could see a lot more success than a one or two run lead when Valdez would come in to pitch.
Here are tonight’s game one starting lineups:
Tampa Bay Rays (23-19):
1. Randy Arozarena RF
2. Austin Meadows LF
3. Ji-Man Choi DH
4. Brandon Lowe 2B
5. Yandy Díaz 1B
6. Joey Wendle 3B
7. Mike Zunino C
8. Brett Phillips CF
9. Willy Adames SS
SP. Luis Patiño RHP
Baltimore Orioles (17-23):
1. Cedric Mullins CF
2. Austin Hays LF
3. Trey Mancini 1B
4. DJ Stewart RF
5. Maikel Franco 3B
6. Freddy Galvis SS
7. Ryan Mountcastle DH
8. Chance Sisco C
9. Stevie Wilkerson 2B
SP. Matt Harvey RHP
Tonight’s game, as well as every game this series, is available on MASN2 and the flagship station of the O’s, 105.7 The Fan. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. EST.
A roster move was made prior to the series, as Rio Ruiz has been designated for assignment. Stevie Wilkerson has been selected from Triple-A Norfolk. Wilkerson has been on fire of late, hitting .357/.438/.476 in 12 games this season.
What are your thoughts on this series? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to follow The Baltimore Battery on the web and on Facebook and Twitter!