Tampa Bay Rays Can All But End Baltimore Orioles’ Run To Playoffs This Weekend

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays host the Baltimore Orioles in a very rare Friday through Monday four game series that starts  tonight at Tropicana Field. Should the Rays either win the series or a sweep it,  they can all but end the Birds’ post-season hopes.

The Rays have won eight out of the last 10 times that the two teams have faced each other, and they are aware that keeping their dominance over Baltimore is the key to getting to the playoffs.

Tampa Bay is presently tied with the Texas Rangers for the top spot in the AL Wild Card derby. At the moment, the O’s are just one game back of the final Wild Card spot. The Rays need to start getting rid of their competition, and this matchup with Baltimore could provide them with that much-needed knockout punch.

This series really comes down to the pitching because in truth, both teams are not scoring runs. As of late, the Rays’ bats have come alive, but they are hardly putting up big numbers. Meanwhile, Baltimore comes to St. Pete  hitting only .222 with runners in scoring position so far on this road trip. Another issue for the O’s is that they have not scored more than five runs in their last 16 games.

Rays manager Joe Maddon is the master motivator, and this should be a great weekend for him to put all of those skills to work. Meanwhile, Buck Showalter has used an AL-leading 14 different starting pitchers and 12 different relievers in his quest to get Baltimore back to the playoffs.

Here is a quick look at the pitching match-ups for the series:

Tonight, the Rays go with David Price (8-8, 3.45ERA), who is  3-0 with a 2.15 ERA in last seven starts against the O’s. Baltimore will start this series off with  Jason Hammel (7-8, 5.12), who is 0-2 with a 7.15 ERA in his last two starts against the Rays, but gave up two runs over 6.2 innings in a 2-1 loss at Tropicana Field on June 7.

On Saturday, it will be Alex Cobb (9-3, 3.02 ERA), who has two straight wins over the O’s in Baltimore. He allowed one earned run over six innings against Baltimore on August 20. Meanwhile, Baltimore has not yet announced a starter for Saturday, although it could be right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (10-7, 3.92 ERA), who was forced to miss a start due to a groin pull.

Baltimore could choose  Bud Norris (10-11, 4.67 ERA) who has a sore elbow, but did throw this week without pain. It may come down to who feels the best.

On Sunday, the Rays will go with Jeremy Hellickson (11-9, 5.23 ERA), and the Orioles will counter with Scott Feldman (5-4, 3.51 ERA), who has been at his best over his last seven starts, holding opponents to a .175 average and 1.77 ERA.

The series ends on Monday with Rays rookie Chris Archer (9-7, 3.02 ERA), facing the O’s Wei-Yen Chen, (7-7, 4.03 ERA). While he has had trouble in his last two starts with location, Chen has a 2.93 ERA in seven starts against the Rays.

The bottom line here is that the Rays’ pitching is far better than Baltimore’s, and look for Tampa Bay to take this series. As of Tuesday, it will be bye bye Birdies.

Rant Sports columnist James Williams is a seven time Emmy Award winning producer, director and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Wordmandc or join his circle at Google +

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