On one hand, Randy Arozarena destroyed a changeup in the series finale against the Brewers. On the other, the Rays dropped two to Milwaukee. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

With the dog days of summer firmly upon us, the Rays return home to take on the Baltimore Orioles in the most important series for Tampa Bay thus far. The Rays dropped two straight to the Brewers, while the Orioles won two against the Blue Jays in a rain-shortened series.

At 58-52 on the season, both teams enter play six games over .500 and tied for third place in the AL East.

It was yet another disappointing series for the Rays, who have won just one post-All-Star Break series. Even so, there’s no time for lamenting, as Tampa Bay’s postseason hopes could hinge on the outcome of this series, among others. In fact, per Baseball-Reference, the Orioles have a better chance at punching their ticket to the postseason than the Rays, who’ve seen their chances drop from the middle 70% range down to just 40.6%. Compare that to Baltimore, which currently boasts a 51.2% chance of playing important baseball after September.

The Rays’ offense hasn’t been terrible over the last week, performing to a slightly above average 104 wRC+, although the Orioles have performed at a clip that is 31% better despite scoring four fewer runs. When you look under the hood, Tampa Bay has, once again, been very unlucky, performing to a .279 BABIP over last week. On the other hand, the Orioles have put up a BABIP that is 38 points higher than their 2022 average. Digging a bit deeper, not only does Baltimore make contact and get lucky with where the ball lands, but it also has been able to flex its muscle, while Tampa Bay has been held in the park — a .189 ISO over the last week vs. a .128 ISO speaks to that.

It will be incumbent upon the Rays’ pitching staff to keep the ball in the park over the next three days. Offensively, let’s hope Yandy Díaz and Ji-Man Choi can get out of the funk they find themselves in, and help lead a squad that could use a little good fortune.

The Rays and Orioles are tied at eight games apiece for the season series, although they are 5-2 against them at the friendly confines of the Trop.

Pitching Portables

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Corey Kluber (7-6, 4.05 ERA), Shane McClanahan (10-5, 2.24 ERA), and Drew Rasmussen (6-4, 2.96 ERA). Brandon Hyde will counter with Spenser Watkins (4-2, 4.02 ERA), Jordan Lyles (9-8, 4.35 ERA), and Kyle Bradish (1-4, 6.42 ERA).

Corey Kluber allowed three runs on seven hits over six innings on Friday against Detroit. He struck out five and threw 84 pitches (65 strikes, 77% strike rate). All three runs that scored on Kluber came in the first two frames, including Riley Greene’s two-run second-inning homer. Even so, Kluber went on to retire 13 of the final 14 batters he faced and kept the Rays in the contest which allowed them to come from behind later in the game. Kluber gave up three runs or fewer for the first time since July 12 after coughing up 12 combined runs over the previous three starts. He now owns a 4.05 ERA and a 3.82 FIP through 21 starts, with a 6.19 K/BB, and a 1.15 WHIP. He is 1-2 with a 4.38 ERA in five starts against the Orioles this season.

Spenser Watkins allowed four runs on four hits and a walk while striking out five in 5.1 innings against the Pirates on Sunday. Watkins tossed four scoreless frames to begin Sunday’s matchup then struggled later in the contest, surrendering three runs in the top of the fifth before being charged with another earned run in the top of the sixth. The right-hander had posted a 1.85 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 34 innings over his six appearances after being recalled by Baltimore, yet he was forced to settle for his second loss of the season. Overall, Watkins maintains a 4.02 ERA and a 4.17 FIP through 15 starts, with a 2.14 K/BB, and a 1.33 WHIP. He is 0-0 with a 10.00 ERA in two starts against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (7-11, 2B, 3 RBI, BB), Yu Chang (1-2), Ji-Man Choi (4-8, 3 RBI, BB), Brandon Lowe (4-13, 2 2B, RBI, BB), FranciscoMejía (2-3, 2B), Isaac Paredes (2-3, HR, RBI), Roman Quinn (1-2, 2B, RBI), Luke Raley (1-3)

Shane McClanahan gave up four earned runs on six hits and no walks while striking out three over 6.1 innings against the Tigers on Saturday. McClanahan was cruising on his way to another quality start but got into some trouble in the seventh inning when each of the first two batters collected a hit. Rays manager Kevin Cash decided to go to the bullpen after McClanahan gave up a sac-fly to Jonathan Schoop in the next at-bat. McClanahan was then tagged with another earned run after leaving the game. The southpaw has now given up nine earned runs over his past two starts raising his ERA to 2.24 and his FIP to 2.61, with a 0.83 WHIP, and a 7.00 K/BB across 128.1 frames. He is 0-0 with a 1.59 ERA in two starts against Baltimore this season.

Jordan Lyles gave up two runs on eight hits and two walks over 5.2 innings against the Blue Jays on Monday. He struck out one. It wasn’t a dominant performance by the veteran right-hander, although Lyles was staked to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and never let Toronto get back in the game. He’s posted a 2.38 ERA but a 4.80 FIP, with a 1.54 WHIP, and a 1.56 K/BB through 22.2 innings in the second half. He is 1-2 with a 7.43 ERA in three starts against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (2-8, HR, 2 RBI), Christian Bethancourt (1-2), Ji-Man Choi (2-5, BB), FranciscoMejía (3-5, HR, RBI), David Peralta (7-25, 2 2B, HR, 5 RBI, 6 BB), Luke Raley (1-4

Drew Rasmussen was lifted in the top of the fourth inning on Sunday after striking out two over three no-hit innings and 33 pitches. The early exit on a day he was pitching so well was likely frustrating, but Rasmussen at least turned in a 1.00 ERA and 0.88 WHIP during his two-start week. Overall, he maintains a 2.96 ERA and 3.54 FIP, with a 1.17 WHIP, and a 3.00 K/BB across 91.1 frames. He is 0-0 with a 4.15 ERA in two starts against Baltimore this season.

Kyle Bradish allowed three runs on five hits and two walks over 5.1 innings against the Blue Jays. He struck out four. Bradish was effective through five innings, with the only blemish being a solo home run off the bat of Bo Bichette. He, however, got himself into trouble in the sixth. A couple of singles and errors helped two Blue Jays to cross the plate, chasing him from the game. While his 6.42 ERA on the surface looks scary, Bradish owned a respectable 3.88 xFIP coming into Tuesday’s start and dominated Triple-A to the tune of a 1.83 ERA over four games. He is 0-1 with a 10.24 ERA in two starts against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (3-5, 2 HR, 3 RBI, BB), Ji-Man Choi (1-3, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Yandy Díaz (4-6, 2B), FranciscoMejía (2-4, 2B)


— OF Manuel Margot began his rehab assignment
on August 9 and went 0-for-3 as the DH for the Rays’ affiliate in the Florida Complex League. He’ll spend a few more days there before joining Triple-A Durham. The Rays hope to have him back when he’s eligible, on August 20.

There’s a schedule that we have in place — I don’t think anything’s like hard line — but very happy with where he’s at. He’ll have a mix of outfield, and then we’ll just continue to see how his knee responds.

— Kevin Cash

— Wander Franco is expected to take pregame batting practice on Friday; his rehab will be reevaluated afterward.

— Harold Ramírez is also slated to join the Rays for pregame batting practice on Friday to evaluate where he’s at in the rehab process.