O's game blog: The homestand begins against Tampa Bay

Could it be that the Orioles are catching the Tampa Bay Rays at the right time? We rarely have had even a chance to say that the last few seasons about this Tampa Bay team that has made the playoffs three straight year and has won the American League East the last two seasons. The Rays won 100 games in 2021.

But they come to town after losing 2-1 last night at New York, and they were swept three straight in that series at Yankee Stadium and have lost five of six games on a trip to Minnesota and New York. Now it's on to Baltimore. The Rays lost the first two games to the Yankees by scores of 2-0 and 4-3.

Tampa Bay is 35-28 for the year and has dropped to third place in the AL East, 12 games back of New York, but is just 4-7 over the last 11 games. Since the Rays started the year going 18-10 in early May, they are 17-18. The Rays are 10-9 in AL East games, but have lost seven of their last 10 within the division. The Rays are just 2-4-2 their past eight series and are 2-7 in road series-opening games.

So yeah, maybe it is a good time to play the Rays. We’ll see about that starting tonight.

The Orioles (28-37) got swept in a season-opening series at Tropicana Field. But they won a series against Tampa Bay May 20-22 in Baltimore, winning twice in extra-inning walk-offs. In the first game of that series, the Orioles won 8-6 in the 13th inning when Rougned Odor hit a two-run homer. In the last game, they won 7-6 in 11 innings on Odor’s fielder’s choice grounder that was misplayed at first base.

The Orioles knocked Toronto right-hander Kevin Gausman from the game during a six-run third inning yesterday at Rogers Centre as they won 10-2 to split that four-game series. The Orioles scored 22 runs in the last three games of that series. They have scored 80 runs the last 14 games and scored six runs or more in eight of those 14 games.

The Orioles are 13-18 versus AL East opponents and have won or tied a series against each club in the division. They are 7-6 at home within the division. And they are 9-7 in their past 16 AL East games.

In Thursday’s win, outfielder Austin Hays produced his ninth home run of the season, a solo shot to left in the top of the eighth. Over his last 27 games, Hays has batted .299 (32-for-107) with six doubles, six homers, 25 RBIs and with an .871 OPS.

Ryan Mountcastle went 2-for-5 with a two-run single in the victory. That was his 15th multi-hit game of the year. In the last three games of that series, he went 7-for-14 with two doubles and three home runs. Over 29 career games against Blue Jays pitchers, he has batted .348 (40-for-115) with four doubles, 12 homers, 23 RBIs and a 1.096 OPS.

Center fielder Cedric Mullins went 3-for-5 and scored two runs in the win. That marked his 16th multi-hit and third game with three hits or more this season.

Right-hander Dean Kremer (1-1, 3.86 ERA) will make his third start for the Orioles in the Rays series opener. On June 5 versus Cleveland, he gave up five hits and three runs over 4 1/3 innings, allowing a three-run homer in the first. June 12 at Kansas City he allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits over five innings, throwing 80 pitches.

Right-hander Shane Baz (0-1, 19.29 ERA) will make his second start for Tampa Bay. He is one of baseball top prospects, currently ranked No. 6 by Baseball America, where he is the second-highest rated pitching prospect. MLBPipeline.com puts him at No. 12. On that Baseball America list, the Orioles' Adley Rutschman is No. 1 and Grayson Rodriguez is No. 3, and this past series the Orioles saw Toronto catcher Gabriel Moreno, who is rated No. 5 on that list.

The Pirates selected the 22-year-old Baz at No. 12 overall out of a Texas high school in the 2017 draft, and he signed for a $4.1 million bonus. He was the 2021 Tampa Bay Rays Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Late last season he went 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA in three starts for Tampa Bay. And then he started Game 2 of the American League Division Series against Boston and gave up three runs over 2 1/3 innings.

This season, Baz is on the comeback trail. He underwent arthroscopic surgery March 21 to remove loose bodies from his right elbow. In four Triple-A rehab starts, over 13 innings he went 0-0 with a 1.38 ERA for Durham with four walks and 20 strikeouts. Baz pitched in the 2021 All-Star Futures Game.

Baseball America rates Baz as Tampa Bay’s No. 1 prospect, and puts a top-of-scale 80 grade on his fastball and a 60 grade on his slider and control.

He made his 2022 major league season debut with a start last Saturday at Minnesota. Over 2 1/3 innings he allowed three hits and five runs, with three walks and two strikeouts on 48 pitches. He threw 26 four-seam fastballs that averaged 96 mph and touched 99. He added 17 sliders, three changeups and two curveballs in that game.

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