Opposite dugout: With rotation healthy to start, how far can Rays go?

rays-logo.jpgManager: Kevin Cash (2nd season)

Record: 2-2

Last 10 games: 2-2

Who to watch: RHP Chris Archer (12-13, 3.23 ERA), LF Corey Dickerson (.304), 2B Logan Forsythe (.281/.359/.444 with 17 HR, 68 RBIs), 3B Evan Longoria (21 HR, 73 RBIs), RF Steven Souza Jr. (16 HR) Note: Statistics from 2015

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (9-10 in 2015)

Pitching probables:

April 8: RHP Chris Archer vs. RHP Chris Tillman, 7:05 p.m., MASN
April 9: LHP Drew Smyly vs. RHP Mike Wright, 7:05 p.m., MASN2
April 10: RHP Jake Odorizzi vs. TBA, 1:35 p.m., MASN

Inside the Rays:

The Rays are a trendy pick by some prognosticators to win the American League East. But it remains to be seen whether Tampa Bay's powerful pitching can rebound from an injury-riddled 2015 and return the Rays to divisional relevance. Whatever happens, the Rays will be the Orioles' first AL East opponent this season in a three-game weekend series following a four-game season-opening series that they split with Toronto at Tropicana Field.

Last season, the Rays actually had a better record at Camden Yards (4-2) than they did at the Trop (5-8), where the Orioles played an extra series due to the April unrest in Baltimore. This is the first of 19 meetings between the division rivals and the first time the Orioles will face Steve Pearce, the first baseman/outfielder who signed with Tampa Bay in the offseason.

The Rays have a new leadoff hitter, second baseman Logan Forsythe, an on-base machine who is coming off a career year, and have lengthened their lineup with the addition of lefty swinging left fielder Corey Dickerson in a trade with the Rockies. Dickerson already has two homers, and right fielder Steven Souza Jr. is coming off a two-homer game. The Rays are hoping that Dickerson and Souza provide some protection in the lineup for third baseman Evan Longoria, whose power stats slumped a little last season but who has a career .268/.339/.525 slash line against the Orioles with 29 homers and 81 RBIs. Last season, five of Longoria's 21 homers were off Orioles pitching. Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier bedeviled the Orioles with sparkling defense last year but hit only .245 against them.

Friday's starter, right-hander Chris Archer, is the staff ace and is already being mentioned as a possible Cy Young candidate. He's no David Price yet, but he's always tough on the Orioles, posting a 1-2 record and 3.04 ERA in four 2015 starts. But Manny Machado (.421), Chris Davis (.308/471/.692) and J.J. Hardy (.357/.333/.500) hit Archer hard. Lefty Drew Smyly, who takes the mound Saturday night, owns a career 4-0 record and sparkling 1.82 ERA versus the Orioles, and is 2-0 with a 0.82 ERA in his career at Camden Yards. Sunday starter Jake Odorizzi has historically struggled against Baltimore, with a career 2-2 record and 4.79 ERA in eight games, including seven starts. Both of those victories came in 2015, when he posted a 3.93 ERA in three starts.

While the Rays rotation seems secure for now, it's the bullpen that's a bit up in the air. All-Star closer Brad Boxberger, who had a league-leading 41 saves last season, is at least another six weeks away due to core muscle surgery, and the Rays traded lefty Jake McGee in the Dickerson deal. Right now, there's no clearly defined closer, though righty Alex Colome is most likely to get the call in the ninth inning, though the Rays have a few big back end arms. Kevin Cash pulled a lot of right strings as a rookie skipper last season; we'll see how effective he is as a sophomore.

Whether or not the weather factors into what happens on the field this weekend remains to be seen, but plunging temperatures may tilt the balance toward the pitchers (and make the reverberations of a oddly struck ball sting the hands of hitters for some time). Friday night's temperatures are supposed to dip into the mid-30s for the lows, while Saturday is scheduled to bring record lows in the upper 20s and a chance of some frozen precipitation. Sunday's sunny skies and mercury readings approaching 50 probably never felt so good.

Tyler Wilson in prime real estate in Orioles clubh...
Wrapping up a 4-2 win

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/