Opposite dugout: Youngsters stepping up to keep Rays in AL East race

rays-logo.jpgManager: Kevin Cash (3rd year)

Record: 39-36

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: 1B Logan Morrison (21 HR, 51 RBIs), CF Mallex Smith (9 SB), 3B Evan Longoria (18 doubles, 38 RBIs), OF/DH Corey Dickerson (.326/.365/.583), RHP Jacob Faria (3-0, 1.37 ERA, 0.966 WHIP), Alex Colomé (20 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 1-2

Pitching probables:

June 23: RHP Chris Archer vs. RHP Ubaldo Jiménez, 7:10 p.m., MASN2
June 24: RHP Jacob Faria vs. RHP Dylan Bundy, 4:10 p.m., MASN
June 25: RHP Jake Odorizzi vs. RHP Chris Tillman, 1:10 p.m., MASN

Inside the Rays:

First in the American League in home runs, and with the third-most runs scored in the AL and one of the game's top closers, the Rays might have been considered underachievers in the win-loss category in the season's early going. But they've passed the Orioles and could be creeping up on the Yankees and Red Sox. The Rays are missing a couple of key players. Speedy center fielder Kevin Kiermaier led the team with 10 steals when he went to the disabled list with a hairline fracture of the hip on June 8. Starting pitcher Matt Andriese (5-1, 3.54 ERA) went down - also with a hip injury - three days later. But a couple of call-ups are filling in with distinction.

Mallex Smith has made a splash in Kiermaier's absence. Starting in center on June 9, Smith went 2-for-3 with a home run and stole three bases. Smith is hitting .396 for the Rays since he was recalled from Triple-A Durham. Corey Dickerson trails only Chicago's Avisaíl García and New York's Aaron Judge in the hunt for the American League batting title, and he hits particularly well against AL East foes. Frequent MVP candidate Evan Longoria is playing his 10th season with the Rays. Longoria isn't putting up numbers at quite the same clip he did in his best years, but he's as clutch as ever, hitting .323 with runners in scoring position, and .421 with RISP with two outs. First baseman Logan Morrison has upped his power game. He's just two home runs shy of his previous season high of 23, which he hit for the Marlins in his sophomore season of 2011. Twelve of the 21 homers he's got so far this year, however, have come with the bases empty, and his batting average with runners in scoring position is just .154.

With a fastball that averages 95 mph, Friday starter Chris Archer (5-4, 3.75 ERA, 1.180 WHIP) forces hitters to make a decision more rapidly than normal, which in turn often causes them to swing at one of those sliders of his that fades out of the strike zone. And those strikes pile up. The right-hander has pitched four games this season in which he has struck out 11, and one in which he fanned 12. Righty Jacob Faria makes his fourth big league start on Saturday. He started well and has gotten better in each of his subsequent efforts. He made the most of what was supposed to be a single spot start when he was called up from Triple-A to sub for Andriese, going 6 1/3 innings against the White Sox June 7, giving up just one run on three hits and two walks while striking out five. When Andriese went down again, this time landing on the 60-day disabled list, the Rays again called Faria up from Durham. He posted another 6 1/3-inning, one-run effort June 13 at Toronto, this time striking out eight. At Detroit June 18, he struck out nine batters in yet another one-run outing, this time going seven innings. Sunday starter Jake Odorizzi (4-3, 3.78 ERA, 1.217 WHIP) has held opposing hitters to a .173 average when runners are in scoring position. He will, however, give up the long ball. The right-hander has surrendered one or two home runs in every start but one thus far in 2017. His June starts have yielded mixed results. In his last start, he went seven innings while allowing three runs on five hits, but got no decision at home against Cincinnati.

Alex Colomé last blew a save June 10, on the front end of a doubleheader at home against Oakland. It was one of just three blown saves this season, and the Rays lost just one of those games. The right-hander, who is actually slightly better against lefty batters than right-handed ones, is running neck and neck with the Red Sox's Craig Kimbrel for the league lead in saves.

Britton on feeling "normal" again, plus other note...
Orioles lineup vs. Indians
 

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