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Series preview: Rays vs. Orioles

Miami Marlins v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

The bad news is the Tampa Bay Rays had to salvage the last game of the season series against the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday afternoon. The good news is they won’t have to play the Mariners again in the regular season.

Despite dropping two of three to the Mariners this week the Rays retained their 1.5 game American League East lead thanks to a few Boston losses. The New York Yankees sit 5.5 and the Toronto Blue Jays 6.5 games behind. The Baltimore Orioles, at 26.0 games behind, bring up the rear. The Rays remain tied for the best record in the American League with the Houston Astros.

This weekend the Rays take on the Orioles in Baltimore. The Rays are 8-1 against the Orioles in 2021.


Friday 7:05 PM: Ryan Yarbrough vs John Means
Saturday 7:05 PM: Shane McClanahan vs Spenser Watkins
Sunday 1:05 PM: Michael Wacha vs Jorge Lopez

John Means has put together a solid bounce back season following a down 2020. Means has put up a 2.84 ERA/4.51 FIP/4.45 xFIP. The ERA is great while the FIP and xFIP are fine. His 23.1% strikeout rate and 4.4% walk rates are good. The problem is when the ball is put in play. He’s held hitters to a .198 BABIP but when the ball gets in the air it’s going over the fence far too often. His 14.0% HR/FB rate isn’t that high, but his 50.0% fly ball rate is leading to a 1.73 HR/9. Since his return from the Injured List a few weeks ago the results haven’t been good, including a game in which the Rays put up five runs in 5.0 innings. The big problem has come in damage off his 92.8 mph four-seam fastball that he throws roughly 50% of the time. He’s allowed 11 homers on the pitch. Against right handed batters he throws a 83.2 mph changeup and 77.7 mph curveball as his secondary pitches of choice. Against left handed batters he will rely on a 86.3 mph slider.

Spenser Watkins has had a solid start to his major league career. He has a 3.81 ERA/4.16 FIP/5.42 xFIP over 26.0 innings. He has a very low 16.5% strikeout rate along with a high 10.1% walk rate which is not a combination that goes well. He has avoided home runs despite a low 32.5% groundball rate. His 6.1% HR/FB rate has made things look much better than they likely will going forward. In his start against the Rays on July 19 he held the Rays to one run in 6.0 innings. He’s coming of back-to-back starts where he’s allowed four earned runs in each. Watkins is a crafty righty that throws a four-seam fastball that averages 90.3 mph. He mixes in a 85.7 mph cutter and 78.5 mph curveball as his secondary pitches of choice. He will sprinkle in a 84.9 mph changeup less than 5% of the time but has shown a willingness to throw it to right handed batters.

Jorge Lopez has been an innings eater for the Orioles. He’s made 22 starts and thrown 102.0 innings. The innings haven’t been in that great of quantity or quality. He has a 5.91 ERA/4.98 FIP/4.54 xFIP. The ERA is ugly but the peripherals suggest it should be closer to fine, but still not more than a fifth starter. He’s posted a solid 20.2% strikeout rate but has allowed too many baserunners with a 10.3% walk rate. In his only start against the Rays this year he allowed five runs in 4.2 innings. Lopez doesn’t lean on one pitch with his 95.2 mph sinker leading the way with a usage rate at just over 35%. He adds a 82.1 mph curveball and 95.3 mph four-seam fastball to complete the bulk of his repertoire. He will throw a 88.6 mph changeup to batters of both hands to complete the pitch mix. Batters have been able to hit his sinker and four-seam fastball for a lot of damage.

The Baltimore bullpen has been called upon to pick up a lot of innings. Their 435.0 innings trail only the Rays (458.2 innings) and San Diego Padres (457.1 innings). The Rays (3.02 ERA) and Padres (2.91 ERA) have the two best ERAs out of the bullpen however the Orioles (5.05 ERA) ranks fourth worst. Despite the ugly results as a group the Orioles do have some late inning options as Paul Fry and Cole Sulser have been effective.

The Baltimore offense has had trouble scoring runs.

When your team combines a 5.54 runs allowed per game (second worst) and 4.14 runs scored per game (eighth worst) it’s no surprise that the team’s record is 38-69 trailing only the Arizona Diamondbacks.

As a team the Orioles are hitting .236/.301/.397 and putting up a 92 wRC+. They underwhelm in walks, strikeouts, and power.

Despite the lackluster results as a whole they do have some very good performers to watch out for.

Cedric Mullins II leads the way. He’s hit .323/.385/.546 and put up a 155 wRC+ while hitting 18 homers and stealing 20 bases. He’s been the one elite performer.

Trey Mancini is enjoying a strong comeback after missing 2020 due to colon cancer. The central Florida native from Winter Haven High School has hit .256/.324/.464 and put up a 116 wRC+. He is tied for the team lead with 19 homers.

Ramon Urias has been a pleasant surprise at shortstop hitting .284/.356/.420 and putting up a 118 wRC+.

Ryan Mountcastle has made progress hitting .262/.307/.475 and putting up a 111 wRC+. He is tied for the team lead with 19 homers.

Austin Hays (95 wRC+), DJ Stewart (88 wRC+), Anthony Santander (83 wRC+), and Maikel Franco (72 wRC+) have received most of the playing time down the lineup.

The Orioles defense ranks dead last with -40 DRS, however UZR sees them much more middle of the pack with -0.6 UZR.

Of course, in baseball, the worst team can beat the best team on any given night, so it will be incumbent upon the Rays to keep focus during this series.

The Rays have 53 games remaining.

Nothing is locked up, but the Rays have put themselves in the spot they want to be in. They lead the division with a very talented team with just over two-thirds of the season in the books. Banked wins matter, but they still have to play well down the stretch to get an opportunity to end up with a World Series victory.