The Baltimore Orioles completed a three game sweep of the Oakland A’s on Wednesday and in the process sent former A’s manager Bob Geren on an early vacation.  Now the O’s take on AL East rival Tampa Bay as they look to gain some ground in the division and see if they can have a say in the vacation plans of Joe Maddon.  This will be the 4th series between the Orioles and Rays.  So far the road team has done the bulk of the damage with the Rays registering the only home win in the series back on May 13th.

The Orioles will face a stiff challenge this weekend in the Rays, who are coming off a three game sweep in Anaheim.  Plus the O’s will faces 2 of Tampa’s 3 best starters in David Price and Jeremy Hellickson.  Hellickson has held the Orioles scoreless in 2 previous starts this year spanning 14 innings.  I would say that the best plan of action for beating the Rays is to get their starters out of the game and try and feast on their bullpen.  The problem is that Tampa’s ‘pen has been surprisingly strong this year.  

For the Rays on offense, Matt Joyce, Johnny Damon and Ben Zobrist are leading the way.  Joyce has been one of the surprise performers in the American League this year.  He leads the Rays in runs, homers, total bases, batting average and OBPS.  The Orioles will need to limit Joyce’s opportunities with runners on base.  Other key performers the Orioles will need to limit are Evan Longoria and Bossman Junior.  Bother Longorian and Upton have battled inconsistency this year, but they both seem to do most of their damaged against the O’s.  Tampa is by no means a powerhouse offense, but they have some dangerous hitters that historically hit the O’s hard.  Limiting Tampa on offense is key in this series as the Orioles are likely to find runs hard to come by.

While the Orioles starting pitching and bullpen have been very good lately, the offense continues to sputter.  Right now the club is riding Mark Reynolds’ hot streak.  Reynolds is starting to emerge as the power bat we expected and he has been good with runners on base.  Luke Scott showed some signs of breaking out of his slump in his one start in the series against Oakland.  Hopefully the cortisone shot does not wear off soon and Scott can have a big series against Tampa’s tough righties.  Nick Markakis is still missing in action.  It has been nearly a month since his last extra base hit and it leaves me wondering if he has it in him to return to his form of 2-3 years ago.  I wonder if moving him to the lead-off spot, with Brian Roberts out, might help him do what he does best…work counts and get on base.

The Orioles will need strong starting pitching to win this series.  I am curious to see what the Orioles get out of Brian Matusz.  He has had solid results in his two starts, but his stuff has not looked as crisp and his command has not been there.   I expect all the games this weekend to be close and low scoring.  The pitching match-ups are not in their favor, but these are the types of series the Orioles need to win in order to push above .500.  Speaking of pitching match-ups, here they are with start times for the series:

Friday, 7:05pm MASNHD
Jeremy Hellickson (7-3, 2.64) vs. Jake Arrieta (7-3, 4.93)

Saturday, 7:05pm MASNHD
David Price (7-5, 3.35) vs. Jeremy Guthrie (2-8, 3.71)

Sunday, 1:35pm MASNHD
Wade Davis (4-5, 4.71) vs. Brian Matusz (1-0, 2.45)