Manager: Kevin Cash (3rd season)
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: RF Steven Souza Jr. (.347/.424/.613 with 4 HR, 17 RBIs), 1B Logan Morrison (4 HR, 12 RBIs), 3B Evan Longoria (3 HR, 12 RBIs), RHP Erasmo Ramírez (2-0, 3.07 ERA), RHP Chris Archer (2-0, 3.20), RHP Alex Colomé (0.00 ERA, 4 saves)
Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (6-13 in 2016)
Inside the Rays:
The Rays were a trendy pick before the season to be a surprise team in the American League East. So far, their offense has been picking up the slack for a pitching staff still trying to find its way. If the guys throwing the ball can round into shape, the Rays could yet fulfill that destiny and make things uncomfortable for the teams battling for division supremacy. Until then, Tampa Bay will get what it can by hitting the ball. The Rays are second in the AL in batting average (.262), tied for fourth with the Orioles in home runs (23) and lead the league in hits (169). So far, the road has been unkind to the Rays, who are 1-6 away from Tropicana Field. And they’ve battled injuries; when reliever Tommy Hunter went on the disabled list Sunday, he became the 11th Rays player to reach the DL, most in the majors. Because of that, don’t be surprised to see some fringe players getting starts, especially at the bottom of the lineup.
For two seasons, right fielder Steven Souza Jr. has failed to live up to expectations and made observers wonder why in the world the Rays would deal first baseman Wil Meyers for him in a complicated three-team trade in December 2014. But now that he’s healthy, Souza is producing, with a .347/.424/.613 slash line that leads the club in all three categories. He’s tied for the team home run lead with four and leads the Rays with 17 RBIs. He still strikes out too much - 22 whiffs in 75 at-bats - but Tampa Bay can live with that if he continues to supply the punch he has in the first month. First baseman Logan Morrison has chipped in four homers and 12 RBIs in the season’s opening month, and is well on the way to obliterating his 2016 marks of 14 homers and 43 RBIs. Souza and Morrison are compensating while third baseman Evan Longoria continues to watch his batting average rise. Longoria is driving in runs (12 RBIs) and walking (10 walks), but he’s always been a fast starter, so his April stats might be viewed as concerning. The Rays are getting early power from left fielder Corey Dickerson (.314, four homers, eight RBIs) and offense and Gold Glove defense from center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (.278).
Right-hander Chris Archer puts his undefeated record on the line in the series opener, his fifth start of the season. The Orioles treated him rudely last year, when he was 1-2 with a 4.62 ERA in four starts against them. For his career, he’s 3-6 with a 4.50 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) versus Baltimore, and 1-3 with a 5.88 ERA in five games (four starts) at Camden Yards. Last season, he allowed 30 homers in 201 1/3 innings; this season, he’s kept the ball in the park, and has yet to yield a longball in 25 1/3 innings, so the Orioles will be a challenge. After posting a 3.72 ERA in five relief outings, Saturday starter Erasmo Ramírez got a start and made the most of it, checking the Tigers on a run and two hits over five innings, with no walks and five strikeouts on April 20. So with the rotation struggling, he’ll go again against the O’s, against whom he’s 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA in 14 games (six starts) over his career. So far this season, the right-hander has allowed opposing batters a .173/.189/.365 slash line, and he’s yet to allow a hit (0-for-9) with runners in scoring position. But he’s served up three homers in 14 2/3 innings, a potential red flag, especially at Camden Yards. Righty Alex Cobb gets the call Sunday, and continues his comeback from Tommy John surgery, which cost him most of the past two seasons. Cobb’s career numbers against the Orioles - 4-1 with a 1.84 ERA in eight starts - and at Camden Yards - 2-0 with a 3.66 ERA - are impressive. But like most post-Tommy John pitchers, he’s a work in progress, and has allowed 30 hits and five homers in 24 innings this season (but only four walks). Cobb has had trouble with left-handed batters, who are slashing .324/.390/.730 off him this season.
Should the Rays get a lead to the ninth inning, Alex Colomé will try to nail down the victory. The 2016 All-Star is 4-for-4 in save opportunities and has yet to allow a run in eight appearances, posting a stingy 0.67 WHIP.