Rays series preview: Who are the Orioles?
After the Rangers swept them over the weekend, the Rays won't have much time to rest, with 14 games scheduled for the next 14 days. The second half of their homestand begins tonight against the Orioles. Here's the information you need to know about Baltimore before the action kicks off.
How's the team?
Record: 47-51, fourth in AL East
Record vs. Rays: 5-4
Record since last facing Rays: 7-10
With the trade deadline a week away, the Orioles are caught in the middle — should they buy or sell? General manager Dan Duquette has given off mixed signals; first he said he was willing to trade some of the team's veterans, then he went back on that and indicated the club might try to bring in a starting pitcher. With the third-worst run differential (-74) in the American League, the O's haven't looked that great this year, so a stretch run might not be in their future.
What's the media saying?
"If you'll recall, the prevailing wisdom regarding the Orioles at season's start was that they had a two-year window — this season and next — to win a title before (Zach) Britton, (Manny) Machado and Adam Jones reach free agency. But that wisdom has been called into question over this season's first four months." (Dave Sheinin, The Washington Post)
"(W)hile the Orioles try to pull themselves out of their hole in the standings, manager Buck Showalter said executive vice president Dan Duquette is scouring the market and weighing every possibility ahead of the deadline." (Jon Meoli, The Baltimore Sun)
"The trick right now is to figure out whether the team that had the best record in baseball on May 9 (22-10) is still worth salvaging after running up one of the worst records in the major leagues since then (24-40 entering Saturday)." (Peter Schmuck, The Baltimore Sun)
Just how bad is the Orioles rotation? Its collective ERA is 5.98, the worst since the team moved to Baltimore more than 60 years ago. That also puts them at the bottom of the AL; the White Sox are second-to-last, with a 5.00 ERA. Every starter the Rays will face in this series is in the league's bottom 10 in ERA.
Monday: Kevin Gausman (106 innings, 6.11 ERA) — After a disastrous start to the year, Gausman has looked marginally better recently. In his last seven outings, the right-hander has pitched 36-1/3 innings, tallying 49 strikeouts to just 12 walks. Still, his ERA in that span (5.40) isn't much better than it was before (6.49). If the Rays can square the ball up like Gausman's other opponents have, it won't matter how many hitters he fans.
Tuesday: Wade Miley (98 innings, 5.58 ERA) — Miley could be a free agent at the end of the year, depending on whether the Orioles pick up his $12 million option for 2018. Through his first 11 starts this season, he'd put up a 2.82 ERA over 60-2/3 innings, making the decision a no-brainer. Over his last nine games, though, he's allowed 44 runs in 37-2/3 frames — no, really, he has. It's a remarkable implosion for the southpaw, who will be lucky if he cracks eight figures on his next contract.
Wednesday: Ubaldo Jimenez (92-2/3 innings, 7.19 ERA) — Since returning to the Orioles rotation in mid-June, Jimenez has a 7.93 ERA in 36-1/3 innings. He's made one sterling start in that span — twirling eight shutout innings against the Blue Jays on June 29 — but has given up four or more runs five times. The last time he faced the Rays, he allowed nine runs and didn't make it through the third inning. Baltimore doesn't have anyone better, though, so Jimenez will continue to get the nod.
Who's hot? Who's not?
While he doesn't see too much action, catcher Caleb Joseph has become a reliable hitter this year — and a superb one as of late. After going the entire 2016 season without an RBI, he's seeing the ball much better in 2017, with a .300 average, .337 on-base percentage and .456 slugging percentage in 170 games. And in his last 43 trips to the dish, he's slashing .447/.500/.684. If the Orioles end up dealing free-agent-to-be Welington Castillo, Joseph would get the lion's share of the playing time behind the plate, and it looks like he's up to the task.
First baseman Chris Davis isn't going anywhere — his seven-year contract makes that a certainty. But since coming off the disabled list, Davis has floundered at the plate, with a .162/.220/.432 triple-slash in 41 plate appearances. He's striking out as much as ever, and although he has three home runs in that span, he's notched only three hits aside from those long balls. That's not the level of play Baltimore expects from its $161 million man.
While they dealt with numerous injuries earlier in the season, the O's are pretty healthy for the moment. Only two middle infielders — J.J. Hardy and Ryan Flaherty — will sit out this series, and each of them has an OPS below .600.