Opposite dugout: Rays very much alive in playoff hunt

Manager: Kevin Cash (3rd season)
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Record: 51-48

Last 10 games: 5-5

Who to watch: DH Corey Dickerson (.308 with 18 HR, 117 hits), 1B Logan Morrison (.252 with 26 HR, 61 RBIs), RF Steven Souza Jr. (.270 with .372 on-base percentage), RHP Jacob Faria (4-1, 2.52 ERA), RHP Alex Colomé (3.63 ERA, 28 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 4-5

Pitching probables:

July 24: RHP Kevin Gausman vs. LHP Blake Snell, 7:05 p.m., MASN
July 25: LHP Wade Miley vs. RHP Jacob Faria, 7:05 p.m., MASN
July 26: RHP Ubaldo Jiménez vs. RHP Alex Cobb, 12:10 p.m., MASN

Inside the Rays:

Back in March, ESPN asked 35 of its baseball experts to lay out their predictions for the coming season. There was a general consensus in terms of the teams expected to either capture a league pennant or win the World Series, with a few "darkhorse" teams sprinkled throughout to snag one of the two wild card spots in each respective league.

Nobody, however, had the Rays in the playoffs.

And as we enter the final week in July, it's Tampa that finds itself in the playoff hunt. The Rays are currently tied for the second wild card spot in the American League. And though the difference between a postseason berth and the 10th place standing in the league is only a handful of games, the Rays are right where they would like to be at this point - in the driver's seat.

One thing that does soften the ESPN experts' predictions is that baseball itself is unpredictable. Just look at the AL East. If you'd taken a poll of which team would lead the division in home runs, the most common answers would've likely been the Orioles, Blue Jays or maybe the Yankees.

In fact, it's the Rays that lead the division in home runs as this three-game series against Baltimore begins. Their 143 longballs trails only the Astros and Rangers in the AL, which is part of the reason the team sits three games above .500 heading into tonight's series opener. First baseman Logan Morrison leads the team with 26 home runs, while right fielder Steven Souza Jr. isn't far behind with 20. Designated hitter Corey Dickerson adds another 18, while his .308 average is tops among the everyday hitters in the Rays lineup.

Fortunately for the Orioles, Chris Archer pitched Saturday against Texas and won't be slated to pitch again until after the three-game series. Archer is fourth in the majors with 167 strikeouts and is fresh off a seven-inning outing during which he tallied 11 Ks. For tonight's series opener, Blake Snell gets the start for Tampa Bay. Snell is still searching for his first win of the season, and has had trouble pitching late into games. He's only lasted more than five innings twice this year and has issued multiple earned runs in seven of his last eight starts. Snell's teammate, Jacob Faria, however, is shining during his rookie season and should likely see some votes in the AL Rookie of the Year race. He made his major league debut on June 7 and is 4-1 with a 2.52 ERA. Tuesday will already be Faria's third start against the Orioles, against whom the right-hander has 13 strikeouts and a 3.55 ERA in two no decisions. Alex Cobb will start Wednesday's matinee opposite Orioles righty Ubaldo Jiménez. Cobb is certainly no stranger to the O's, having made 10 career starts against them. He's had success against his divisional foe, too, going 4-2 with a 2.69 ERA, though his only loss since June 9 was against, you guessed it, the Orioles.

Closer Alex Colomé entered Sunday as the league leader in saves with 28, despite carrying a 3.63 ERA. Though he's had some rough spots this season, Colomé has gone through July unscathed thus far and also gets help from relievers Chase Whitley and Danny Farquhar.

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