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Series Preview: Rays vs Orioles

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Minnesota Twins v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays enjoyed their second off day this week after splitting a two game series with the Washington Nationals. The Rays remain in a tie with the San Francisco Giants for best record in the majors.

The Rays lead the American League East by 1.0 game over the Boston Red Sox. The New York Yankees sit 6.0 games back. The Toronto Blue Jays are 6.5 games behind, and the Baltimore Orioles are 16.0 games behind the Rays.

The Rays take on the Orioles at Tropicana Field for the first time this year. In the middle of May the Rays swept a three game series in Baltimore. (Note that the Rays have not officially names their starters for the weekend; we are making assumptions here based on how the rotation lines up).

Matchups:

Friday 7:10 PM: Keegan Akin vs Ryan Yarbrough
Saturday 4:10 PM: Jorge Lopez vs Rich Hill
Sunday 1:10 PM: Bruce Zimmermann vs Josh Fleming

Keegan Akin has floated between multi-inning reliever and starter. In five of his six appearances he’s thrown at least 3.0 innings and in his two starts he’s thrown 4.2 and 5.0 innings. His results have been very good with a 3.60 ERA/3.25 FIP/4.22 xFIP. In his two starts he has only allowed one run total. The left hander’s main pitch is a 91.7 mph four-seam fastball. Against right handed batters he throws a 80.8 mph changeup. He throws a 83.8 mph slider more often against lefties but still throws it against righties. He will try to steal a strike with the occasional 76.9 mph curveball.

Jorge Lopez has been a replacement level depth starter. In 12 starts he’s posted a 5.30 ERA/5.15 FIP/4.23 xFIP. Lopez is certainly not the reason the Orioles are bad this year — but a team that uses a starter of this quality to throw five innings every five days is by definition a bad team. His strikeout rate has surged to 22.0% but his walk rate has spiked to 10.2%. Lopez is a four pitch pitcher who throws a 96.1 mph sinker, 95.2 mph four-seam fastball, 82.3 mph curveball, and 88.2 mph changeup. He is willing to throw his changeup to right handed batters just as much as left handed batters. He will sprinkle in a 86.6 mph slider to right handed batters.

Bruce Zimmermann made his Major League debut against the Rays last September. The Rays put up five runs in 3.0 innings. This year he has put up a 4.83 ERA/5.24 FIP/4.19 xFIP over 54.0 innings. His 21.1% strikeout rate and 7.2% walk rates are solid. The problem has been homers as he’s allowed a 21.1% HR/FB rate and 2.00 HR/9. The left handed Zimmermann throws a 91.6 mph four-seam fastball as his primary pitch just under 50% of the time. Against right handed batters he throws a 84.6 mph changeup. He will add a 86.4 mph slider and 82.1 mph curveball against all batters. He’s faced nearly 80% right handed batters so he very rarely has the platoon advantage.

The Orioles bullpen has been one of their biggest weaknesses with a 4.49 ERA/4.26 FIP/4.11 xFIP. Paul Fry (1.99 ERA/1.56 FIP/2.25 xFIP) has been their biggest weapon along with former Ray Cole Sulser (1.66 ERA/2.41 FIP/2.58 xFIP). Their biggest problem has been finding quality innings to bridge from their starters, many of him can only throw a few innings, to the back end of the bullpen.

The Orioles offense has taken a step forward.

The Orioles have put up a .242/.306/.403 line and a 98 wRC+. Their 4.11 runs per game isn’t great but it places them firmly in the middle of the pack.

Cedric Mullins II has had a great start to 2021. He’s put up a .323/.392/.536 line and 157 wRC+. He’s hit nine homers and stolen nine bases. The rest of the team has combined for ten stolen bases, so he is the one player that pitchers should pay attention to.

The Winter Haven High School graduate Trey Mancini has came back strong after missing the 2020 season as he battled colon cancer. He’s hitting .277/.351/.482 and putting up a 131 wRC+. He leads the club with 11 homers.

Freddy Galvis (116 wRC+) has been a solid veteran addition.

Austin Hays (115 wRC+), DJ Stewart (108 wRC+), Anthony Santander (102 wRC+), and Ryan Mountcastle (98 wRC+) have been solid performers at the plate.

Pedro Severino (79 wRC+) and Maikel Franco (76 wRC+) have disappointed at the plate.

The Orioles defense has improved over the last couple years posting a -3 DRS and +6.5 UZR so far. They are a more athletic team that doesn’t have to find a place to field half a dozen first baseman.

The Orioles are on a streak of not being terrible

Over their last seven games they’ve gone 5-2. That is coming on the heels of a 14 game losing streak and 2-19 stretch.

Although the Rays are well past their extended winning streak, it’s been a while since they have lost a series. Let’s hope that continues.