Opposite dugout: Rays challenged to be little more than a pesky foe

rays-logo.jpgManager: Kevin Cash (4th year)

Record: 15-19

Last 10 games: 4-6

Who to watch: CF Mallex Smith (.326/.407/.421 with 8 SB), C Wilson Ramos (.313 with 4 HR, 18 RBIs), 2B Daniel Robertson (.289), 1B C.J. Cron (7 HR, 20 RBIs), LHP Blake Snell (4-2, 2.40 ERA), RHP Alex Colomé (6 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 0-2

Pitching probables:

May 11: RHP Jake Faria (3-1) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (2-2), 7:05 p.m., MASN
May 12: RHP Chris Archer (2-2) vs. TBA , 3:05 p.m., MASN2
May 12: TBA vs. RHP Alex Cobb (0-4), 6:35 p.m., MASN
May 13: LHP Blake Snell (4-2) vs. RHP Dylan Bundy (1-5), 1:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Rays:

May hasn't been kind to the Rays, who have posted only a 2-5 record and slipped to fourth place in the American League East. If not for the Orioles' woeful start, Tampa Bay would be challenging them for the division basement. Instead, the Rays will just plug along until they start a midseason selloff, swapping veterans for prospects to enhance what seems like a perpetual rebuild. Aside from a .259 average and .331 on-base percentage that rank sixth in the majors, and 22 stolen bases good for eighth, the Rays don't do anything particularly well, a statistical middle-of-the-road squad that can do little more than hope to be pesky.

When center fielder Kevin Kiermaier went on the 60-day disabled list with a torn thumb ligament in mid-April, Mallex Smith seized the opportunity to show he could be a productive everyday player and has slashed .326/.407/.421. Catcher Wilson Ramos shook off a slow start and has batted .403 during a 16-game hitting streak that is fourth-longest in franchise history. Two newcomers - first baseman C.J. Cron and right fielder Carlos Gomez - have been Tampa Bay's main power sources in the early going. Cron has seven homers and has driven in 20 runs, and Gomez has five homers, but only eight RBIs and a .195 average. Another offseason acquisition, left fielder Denard Span, has made a major impact with a team-leading 24 RBIs.

Righty Jake Faria, who starts Friday's series opener, has been all over the map in his seven starts, three times failing to make it to the fifth inning and twice working six or more frames. But he's won three straight decisions. Faria has struggled to a 1-1 record and 7.71 ERA in three road outings, and foes are teeing off on him early, with a .316/.458/.421 line on his first 15 pitches. Faria is 1-0 with a 4.78 ERA in five games (four starts) in his career against the Orioles. Right-hander Chris Archer will pitch one game of Saturday's doubleheader, and is looking to get on track. He's won only once in his past five starts, and he gave up four runs on 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings in that April 26 victory over the Birds at Camden Yards. Archer allowed a home run in each of his six April starts, but has yet to be touched for a longball in two May outings. His 5.32 ERA and 1.40 WHIP are uncharacteristic for the veteran. The Rays have yet to announce the other starter in Saturday's twinbill, but it could be lefty Anthony Banda making his Rays debut after being acquired in the three-team trade that sent Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona in February. Southpaw Blake Snell starts Sunday's finale and has easily been the Rays' most effective rotation member, as his 2.40 ERA and 0.95 WHIP suggest. He's worked at least six innings in each of his last six starts, but is 0-1 after reeling off victories in four consecutive starts from April 10-27. In three lifetime starts against the Orioles, Snell is 1-1 with a 3.44 ERA, but he's yet to record a decision and posted an 8.31 ERA in one career start at Camden Yards.

Alex Colomé gets the call when the Rays hold a ninth-inning lead, and he's recorded six saves in eight chances. But his 5.17 ERA and 1.72 WHIP are not the stuff of elite closers.

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