Baltimore Orioles vs. Tampa Bay Rays Series Preview: Battle of the AL East Heavyweights

Baltimore Orioles v Atlanta Braves
Baltimore Orioles v Atlanta Braves / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

The Orioles return home Monday after a ten-game road trip to Detroit, Kansas City, and Atlanta. Despite the last two games ending in one-run losses, it was a largely successful road trip for the Orioles who went 6-4 on the trip and are hanging on to second place in the AL East at 22-12.

That being said, the Orioles return home to face a juggernaut in the Tampa Bay Rays in a series that will test the teams' likelihood to contend in easily the best division in baseball. This series will be the most important for the team early in the season and the team will need to click on all cylinders to come out with two or three wins. Let's look at each matchup.

1. Game One- Shane McClanahan vs. Kyle Gibson. Monday 5/8 at 6:35 PM

Kyle Gibson
Baltimore Orioles v Detroit Tigers / Duane Burleson/GettyImages

In his first season with the Orioles, Gibson has pitched as well as expected- no better and no worse. He comes in with a 4.61 ERA in seven starts and 41 innings pitched. In his most recent start, he allowed six earned runs in 6.2 innings pitched in an unusual outing against the Royals in a 6-0 loss in which Zack Greinke was pulled after 44 pitches and five innings due to a managerial decision.

The O's are 5-2 this season when Gibson starts, and they hope to continue that trend against the best team in baseball. The Rays hitters who have hit against Gibson have had success as Randy Arozarena, Yandy Diaz, Brandon Lowe, Isaac Paredes, and Taylor Walls have hit a combined 13-for-30 against him. This success should continue as each of those hitters are having strong seasons at the plate and the Rays are coming off a series where they took two of three from the Yankees at the Trop.

Similar to Gibson, Shane McClanahan also started on Opening Day this year and he has emerged as one of the best southpaws in the sport. In seven starts, he has allowed nine earned runs in 40 innings for a 2.03 ERA and 201 ERA+. He earned a spot in the All-Star Game last season and finished sixth in Cy Young voting. Shane has been nothing short of dominant the last few seasons and looks to continue this dominance at OPACY on Monday. The good news for the Orioles is that they forced a similarly dominant left-handed pitcher in Max Fried to his worst start of the season Friday night in the 9-4 win.

The O's have shown an ability to hit well of southpaws this year as right-handed hitters like Ryan Mountcastle, Austin Hays, and Jorge Mateo have had great seasons at the plate. Adley Rutschman and Cedric Mullins have also hit well off of lefties. Hays, Mullins, and Santander have all had 17+ career at bats against Shane. Mullins has a career .353 average with two home runs in his career against him. The key for the O's to win this game is a strong and lengthy start from Gibson as the bullpen has been taxed recently and a bullpen battle between the two teams would likely favor the Rays.

2. Game Two- Zach Eflin vs. Grayson Rodriguez. Tuesday 5/9 at 6:35 PM

Grayson Rodriguez
Baltimore Orioles v Kansas City Royals / Jamie Squire/GettyImages

Grayson Rodriguez is coming off a disappointing outing against the Royals last Thursday despite the O's eventual 13-10 win. In his rookie season, he has a 5.46 ERA in six starts and makes his first career start against the Rays. His stuff has been progressively impressive all season but he continues to struggle with command and control as he has walked 12 and struck out 37 in 28 innings as well as given up five home runs. The Rays are a notably patient team with plenty of power so Rodriguez will be tested against their offense but he has the most dominant stuff in the O's rotation and if he has his groove on Tuesday then the O's have a chance to come away with the win.

The Rays are pitching a veteran in Zach Eflin who has spent most of his career in Philadelphia. In his first season in Tampa Bay, he has a 2.25 ERA and 182 ERA+ in five starts. In his most recent start, he pitched seven shutout innings with ten strikeouts against a Pittsburgh Pirates team who started off strong offensively. He pitched extremely efficiently with 80 pitches in seven innings in that start and the Orioles will need to work counts on Eflin to have a chance.

The O's have shown good patience and discipline this season as they have forced deep pitch counts on many starting pitchers. The Orioles offense has little experience against Eflin but Anthony Santander has hit 2-for-3 with a home run off him in his career. Santander is coming into this series as the hottest bat in the O's lineup as he hit two home runs on Friday night against the Braves. Anthony continuing to crush baseballs would be a huge step towards victory on Tuesday.

3. Game Three- Yonny Chirinos vs. Dean Kremer. Wednesday 5/10 at 6:35 PM

Dean Kremer
Baltimore Orioles v Atlanta Braves / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

Dean Kremer enters the game off a much-needed strong start against the Braves on Friday night. Kremer has struggled to start 2023 after a strong 2022 and the long ball has been his achilles heel. Opponents have hit seven home runs off Kremer in seven starts and 35.2 innings pitched. The key matchup on Wednesday will be his matchup with slugger Randy Arozarena who has two career homers off of Dean in seven at bats.

No one else on the current roster have taken Kremer deep in their careers but players like Brandon Lowe and Josh Lowe (different pronunciations, somehow) have had considerable success off Dean. If Kremer keeps the ball in the yard, he has the chance to have a strong start, but things could go south if he misses on a few pitches as well.

Similar to McClanahan and Eflin, Yonny Chirinos has had a strong season but will most likely be used as an opener on Wednesday. This will be his second start of the season and sixth appearance as he has a 1.86 ERA in 19.1 innings. Chirinos has been used as an opener for Tampa Bay in the past and this game will be used as a bullpen game that Kevin Cash has made regular. If McClanahan and Eflin have strong starts, the bullpen should be well-rested which gives the Rays an advantage. The only two O's hitters who have seen Chirinos are Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle. Santander is 2-for-6 and Mountcastle 0-for-7.

As mentioned earlier, this is a huge series for the Orioles who could gain ground in the AL East with a strong series or fall to fourth place with a poor series and wins from the Blue Jays and Red Sox elsewhere. The offense will need to step up against some of the best pitchers in the sport and Orioles pitching will similarly need to step up if the Orioles want to gain ground on the Rays. Despite being a weekday series, the Orioles hot start and the relevance of this series should lead to good attendance numbers at Camden Yards.