The Tampa Bay Rays will look to extend their lead in the AL East when they host the Baltimore Orioles Wednesday night.
Based on the numbers, the Rays are the best team in baseball right now. Tampa Bay has gotten off to a 13-4 start, opening up a 5.5-game lead in the AL East, a division in which the four other teams all have losing records. After a 4-2 win over Baltimore in Tuesday’s series opener, the Rays have now won seven of their last eight games.
Meanwhile, the Orioles are actually doing a lot better than expected. Despite an ugly -29 run differential, Baltimore is 7-11, a respectable record after losing 115 games last season. The Orioles earned a surprising split in a four-game series in Boston over the weekend before falling to the Rays on Tuesday.
That’s More Like It
Wednesday’s starting pitcher David Hess has been one of Baltimore’s pleasant surprises early in the season. The 25-year-old is 1-2 with a 3.32 ERA in three starts and one relief outing, an improvement after he posted a 4.88 ERA as a rookie last season.
He was a little vulnerable to the home run ball during a start against the Yankees earlier this month, but he’s been otherwise solid this season. Also, power isn’t a strength of Tampa Bay’s lineup outside of Austin Meadows, who has six home runs early in the year.
Of course, the Rays got the better of Hess when he faced them last season. Current Rays hitters are batting .381 with an OPS of 1.092 against Hess. The likes of Meadows, Avisail Garcia, Willy Adames, and Brandon Lowe are also scorching hot at the moment.
However, Hess has been a different pitcher than he was last season, so he’ll be eager to get another chance to shut down Tampa’s lineup.
Keeping Things Open
As they do most days, the Rays will be going with an “opener” during Wednesday’s game. Ryne Stanek is set to start a game for the fourth time this season. He’s pitched two innings in each of his last two starts before turning it over to the rest of the pitching staff.
On the season, he’s pitched five shutout innings when being used as an “opener.” Meanwhile, the Rays got seven innings out of actual starter Tyler Glasnow on Tuesday, so the rest of their bullpen should be fresh.
However, the Orioles rank among the top 5 in the American League in runs scored early in the season. Trey Mancini has carried them with six home runs and six doubles, giving him an OPS of 1.068.
Jonathan Villar and Dwight Smith Jr. are also off to strong starts while youngster Renato Nunez has started to come along over the last week, so the Baltimore lineup has some guys who can hurt the Rays.
Don’t Doubt the Formula
Whether they’ve used a traditional starter or an opener, the Rays are doing everything right this season. With a well-rested pitching staff and a lineup averaging better than six runs per game over their last eight contests, they’re a force to be reckoned with right now. Bet on the Rays to beat the Orioles on Wednesday night.