Tampa Bay Rays versus Baltimore Orioles Series Preview
The Rays, fresh off a re-vitalizing road series win against the AL Central-leading Cleveland Indians, return home for a five game home stand. They’ll host the Baltimore Orioles for a three game set, then welcome the New York Yankees to the Big Orange…Hey now…it’s the Tropicana Dome after all, and I’m just trying to make the Yankees feel welcome, sort of.
The Orioles are fresh off a sweep of the mournful Seattle Mariners and hoping for a reversal of fortunes. The O’s were swept out of their own house the last time they faced the Rays; a three-game series that saw the Rays score 19 runs and lay waste to Baltimore hopefuls, including handing Rookie of the Year front-runner Zach Britton his first loss at Camden Yards.
The Rays took two out of three from Cleveland, again scoring 19 runs in the series and showing that their offense, oft-maligned in the off-season, is definitely not dead. Sam Fuld has come out of a long funk while Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Casey Kotchman have turned up the heat lately, providing a firestorm of offense for the now first place Rays.
Meanwhile the Rays bullpen continues to impress thanks to a rotation that is going deeper into games with solid Innings Per Start (IPS). David Price (7.2 IPS), James Shields (7.6 IPS), Wade Davis (6.3 IPS) and Jeremy Hellickson (6.1 IPS) have been able to keep the bullpen from being over-used. The offense has done a solid job giving them the cushion they need, and it shows as the Rays lead the league in Save% with 78% while at the bottom of the league in saves. Simply put, the Rays offense is scoring so many runs that there are fewer saves to be had.
Tampa Bay Rays:
2011 Regular Season Record: 22-15, 1st in the AL East
166 Runs Scored (6th in AL)/ 129 Runs Allowed 2nd in AL)
Friday, May 13th, 7:05pm ET, Tropicana Field- RHP, Jeremy Hellickson (3-2, 3.72 ERA) vs. RHP, Jeremy Guthrie (1-5, 4.09 ERA)
Prior to the first pitch, the Rays will retire the official call signs of Thomas Baitinger, Jeffrey Yaslowitz and David Crawford…three local police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty this year. In honor of the fallen officers, their call signs will be permanent fixtures on the wall of Tropicana Field.
In his last game against the Orioles, an 8-2 win at Camden Yards, Hellickson was a bit wild, walking five batters while striking out four. He made it through five innings allowing only three hits and no runs to get the win. The offense gave him plenty of cushion, scoring seven runs in the first five innings. He’ll face Guthrie, who has suffered from a severe lack of run support. Guthrie has allowed two or less runs in four of his seven outings yet has only one win on opening day against the Rays, when he pitched eight innings of shutout ball while allowing only three hits and striking out six Rays.
Saturday, May 14th, 4:10pm ET – RHP, Wade Davis (4-2, 3.07 ERA) vs. Brad Bergensen (0-4, 5.57)
Davis continues to shine as the fourth pitcher in the Rays talented rotation. Davis, who broke out last year, isn’t a strike out pitcher but has worked into the sixth inning or later in all but his last game, which coincidentally was against the Orioles on May 8th. He’ll face Bergensen, whose job is likely on the line if he can’t get the kinks worked out. Brian Matusz, on the DL since March 30th, is on rehab assignment with the team’s high class A Frederick Keys and could be back in a week or two. Bergensen would likely be the odd man out of the rotation.
Sunday, May 15th, 1:40pm ET – RHP, Andy Sonnanstine (0-0, 2.87 ERA) vs. RHP, Jake Arrieta (4-1, 4.17 ERA)
Sonnanstine got his first start of the season this past week against the Cleveland Indians, and it wasn’t a positive thing. Filling in for the injured Jeff Niemann, Sonnanstine couldn’t get through four innings, getting pulled in favor of Cesar Ramos after walking five batters and allowing two home runs. The Rays have other options available to them if he can’t get the job done while Niemann is on the DL waiting in the wings, but his job in the bullpen isn’t likely to be threatened, at least not yet. He serves as the team’s long reliever, but with J.P. Howell likely to be called up after one more rehab appearance next Wednesday, he’ll need to do a better job against the Orioles. He’ll face Arrieta, another member of the young Baltimore rotation who has brought hope to the club. Expect Rays manager Joe Maddon to load the offense with right-handed hitters, since Arrieta has been particularly hard on lefties, allowing a lowly .187 BAA against them so far this season.
Tampa Bay Rays
It’s hard to pick a single player as several have been on fire. Matt Joyce leads the AL in batting average with .358; Ben Zobrist is crushing the ball; Casey Kotchman is actually hitting better than Joyce, at .360, but doesn’t have the minimum 100 at bats to qualify. Right now I’d say it is a team effort as the Rays are clicking across the board.
Short stop J.J. Hardy stepped off the DL and into the hearts of Orioles fans. In his first game back since April 9th Hardy went 4-5 at the plate with a home run. In the three games since his return he’s gone 7-13 with the home run and three RBI.
Tampa Bay Rays
Andy Sonnanstine’s start against Cleveland lands him here.
Derrek Lee – When the Orioles signed Lee in January to a one-year, $7.25 million dollar deal I doubt they expected that he’d have four home runs, 10 RBI, 37 K’s and a .227 BA almost a quarter of the way through the season. And, although three of those home runs have come in the past two weeks, he has also struck out 16 times and sports a .191 BA during that stretch.