Manager: Kevin Cash (1st season)
Last 10 games: 4-6
Who to watch: LF David DeJesus (.322, 18 RBIs), 3B Evan Longoria (.284, 5 HR, 23 RBIs), 2B Logan Forsythe (21 RBIs), RF Stephen Souza Jr. (7 HR, 17 RBIs), RHP Jake Orodizzi (3-5, 2.31 ERA), RHP Brad Boxberger (13 saves, 2.95 ERA)
Season series vs. Orioles: 3-3
May 29: RHP Nate Karns vs. RHP Miguel Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m., MASN
May 30: RHP Erasmo Ramirez vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen, 4:05 p.m., MASN
May 31: RHP Jake Odorizzi vs. RHP Chris Tillman, 1:35 p.m., MASN
Inside the Rays:
Step to the head of the class if you thought the Rays would be at .500 and in second place in the American League East in the last weekend of May. Everyone assumed this was going to be a rebuilding year in Tampa Bay, what with the departures of longtime manager Joe Maddon and executive Andrew Friedman. But first-year manager Kevin Cash has gotten a lot out of the Rays, piecing together an effective pitching staff when injuries hit hard early on. Things haven't gone swimmingly of late - the Rays hit Camden Yards on a season-high five-game losing streak - so we'll see how they react to their first significant stretch of adversity in terms of wins and losses.
There's no doubt pitching has carried the Rays thus far. They've limited opponents to a .222/.292/.352 slash line so far, and those marks are good for first, third and second in the majors this season. They've amassed the fourth-most strikeouts (408) and the fifth-best ERA (.342), while yielding the sixth-fewest runs (172). Pitching coach Jim Hickey has done a masterful job of keeping the staff together, especially when everyone predicted doom after starting pitchers started coming up lame in spring training.
The Rays will turn to right-hander Nate Karns to escape their skid on Friday night, and since being shelled by the Orioles in his first start, Karns has pitched to a 2.97 ERA in his last eight outings. But he's only gone six or more innings in one of his last five starts. Karns is 1-0 with a 1.54 ERA in two road starts, and away from Tropicana Field, opponents are hitting only .125 off him (and .210 overall). He relies on changing speeds - as a fastball that clocks between 87-96 mph would indicate - and also throws a 76 mph curve. The loss in the opening series of the season is his only career decision against the Orioles in three starts, and he's never pitched at Camden Yards.
Saturday starter Erasmo Ramirez is coming off a poor outing against Oakland on May 24 in which he allowed five runs in five innings. That 90 mph fastball and 80 mph curve, which account for about 87 percent of the right-hander's offerings, must not have been fooling the A's. But the Rays have won two of his last three starts and he's logged at least five innings in all three. Ramirez hasn't had much success on the road this season, posting a 1-1 record and 13.14 ERA. He's got reverse splits, with right-handed batters hitting him better (.311) than left-handed swingers (.182), with a respectable overall batting average against at .238 . He's 1-0 with a 3.52 ERA in three games (two starts) lifetime against the Orioles and 1-0 with a 6.00 ERA at Camden Yards.
Right-hander Jake Odorizzi gets the nod in Sunday's finale, and he hopes to cap off a successful May with another strong outing. So far this month, he's posted a 2.20 ERA in five starts, strong numbers that have translated into only a 1-3 record. In his most recent outing, May 25 at home against Seattle, he allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits with two walks and seven strikeouts over seven innings in a 4-1 defeat. But he's been a model of consistency, working at least six innings in all 10 of his 2015 starts and holding foes to a .210 batting average. Odorizzi is 1-2 with a 4.25 ERA in six games (five starts) in his career against the Orioles and beat the Birds in the opening weekend at The Trop. He's 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in three lifetime starts in Baltimore. When he stopped relying on his 91 mph fastball and did a more effective job of mixing in an 86 mph slider and 84 mph splitter, hitters began having more trouble figuring him out.
For Tampa Bay pitchers, it all comes down to how much run support they get, and lately runs have been hard to come by. During the current losing streak, they've scored nine runs - six of them coming in one game - and been shut out twice. The Rays rank 24th in the majors with 179 runs scored, so it's clear they need to manufacture more offense.
Left fielder David DeJesus and second baseman Logan Forsythe have been the hottest hitters of late. DeJesus has a .353 average in May and Forsythe has posted a .311 average this month, and comes into the series on a five-game hitting streak, during which he's gone 6-for-18. Third baseman Evan Longoria has been his steady self, slashing .284/.366/.444 with five homers and a team-leading 23 RBIs for the season.
But more hitters have been struggling than not over the past four weeks. Right fielder Steven Souza Jr. leads the Rays with seven homers, but has only six RBIs (two in his last nine games) and a .208 average in May. Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier is batting .170 for the month and hasn't driven in a run in nine games. Catcher Rene Rivera is at .169 for the month and hasn't had an RBI in two weeks. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera's .213 batting mark this month looks decent by comparison, but he has only one RBI in 11 games.
Closer Brad Boxberger's numbers look strong - a 2.95 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 13 saves in as many tried - but even he's had some rough patches lately. He's yielded four runs in his past two outings in non-save situations, taking a loss and allowing a homer in each outing. He's got a 3.72 ERA for the month
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