The Rays have returned home, after what was certainly a hell week and taking four of six from division rivals. This week they get to play three more against who is now leading the division: Baltimore.
Yes, the Orioles (15-14) have a 1.5 game lead over the Rays (15-17), and that's the same gap dividing everyone else in the AL East, where all but the Yankees have a differential within seven runs of nil. The Yanks are at -19 thus far, the Orioles at -6, the Rays at -7.
The Orioles strength thus far has been... well... I'm not sure. They have yet to lose one of their starters from the pitching rotation, but consistency has given them a 19th best 2.2 WAR in baseball, tied with the Rays. The Orioles pitching staff also has the ninth highest ERA (4.28) and third highest FIP (4.30). The Rays are seventh and fifteenth, respectively.
From a positional perspective, the Rays have moved up to fourth in WAR (6.6), with a fifth best 109 wRC+, while the Orioles are 23rd in WAR (2.4), with a 93 wRC+ (eighteenth), particularly suffering from a lack of Chris Davis. The slugger has been suffering from an oblique strain and recently took up swinging and throwing again, but isn't eligible to be activated from the disabled list until Sunday.
The best performer on the team is Matt Wieters, with a .406 wOBA and 157 wRC+, which is Adrian Gonzalez production. Also respectable is Nelson Cruz's bat thus far, with a .413 wOBA and 162 wRC+, but his defense is still subtracting value.
Tonight, the Orioles start their best pitcher from an earned run perspective (87 ERA-), who has been league average thus far (100 FIP-). Tillman works a 92 fourseam and change with ten mile per hour separation, as well as a knuckle curve at 76. The oft used fastball (64.5% frequency) has considerable bite (11" vertical drop), while the change appears to have a more two-seam movement. He mixes both off-speed pitches at 15%, and has a seldom used cutter for flavor -- but seriously, it's all fastball.
Hey look, another fourseam guy (58% frequency) with hard bite (10.5" vertical drop), a two-seam looking change. He pumps an 88 slider with 28% use -- with horrible results thus far against right handed batters (4.09 BAA, .455 SLG), and equal uses between hands -- but he's only getting more fastball heavy as time goes by. Situationally, if a left handed batter falls behind to Norris, think slider. The rest guess fastball.
Finally we get a bit more variation in pitch selection. The sinker is the favored pitch here at 32% use (and more frequent with the batter agead), but the four seam (24%), slider (22%) and split (18%) each get their turn. And yes, the vertical movement on that fastball is 10.5" as well. I've been hammering this point because it jumped out at me that all three had the same drop. An improvement of 0.5" since joining the club. By comparison, Yu Darvish gets 9.8" vertical movement, and Kershaw gets 12". So color me impressed?
The good news is that the Rays get to look at the same fastball in all three games, and that Ubaldo has struggled with his sinker in the past, so if he's feeding fastballs (as he likes to when he's ahead in the count) the Rays will not be seeing something new.