Oriole Park at Camden Yards, site of the upcoming four-game series between the Rays and the Orioles. (Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)

So it begins, the Tampa Bay Rays are set begin the most important stretch of their season on Friday, a period of action that finds them playing 40 games in 41 days. First stop Baltimore, where they are set to take on the Orioles in a four-game, three-day series starting Friday.

(Stats Credit: ESPN)

The American League East rivals met late last month in Baltimore, and the Rays took each of the two encounters that occurred. Unfortunately the first game of that series was rained out, hence the doubleheader on Saturday. Tampa Bay’s offense has fallen off the last few games, although the team is batting .259 (fifth in MLB) and boasts a .331 on-base percentage (sixth in MLB). The Rays are hovering around .500 but have lost three in a row.

Meanwhile, Baltimore is the worst team in baseball but at least they managed to put an end to an eight-game losing streak by beating Kansas City both on Wednesday and Thursday, consequently winning the series. The Orioles are 29th in batting average, 30th in on-base percentage, 27th in slugging percentage, and 29th in runs scored.

(Stats Credit: FanGraphs)

Pitching Probables

Kevin Cash will turn to Jake Faria (3-1, 4.15 ERA), the bullpen (6-10, 4.35 ERA), Chris Archer (2-2, 5.32 ERA) and Blake Snell (4-2, 2.40 ERA). Buck Showalter will counter with Kevin Gausman (2-2, 3.30 ERA), Alex Cobb (0-4, 7.61 ERA), a pitcher to be named later, and Dylan Bundy (1-5, 5.31 ERA).

(Stats Credit: FanGraphs)

Jake Faria allowed one run on three hits and a walk over 5-1/3 innings against the Blue Jays on Saturday. He struck out out four. The right-hander has now allowed no more than one run in five of his seven starts this season, although he has only lasted long enough to produce two quality starts thanks to the Rays reluctance to allow certain hurlers to face batters three times through the order. Faria is 1-0 with a 4.78 in five games (four starts) against Baltimore.

Kevin Gausman allowed just two hits and two walks while fanning six across nine scoreless innings on Saturday. He, however, did not factor into the decision. Gausman’s line is slightly misleading, as only 66 of his 113 pitches went for strikes. He also threw a low percentage first pitch strikes, although it did not come back to haunt him via walks or hard contact. Since getting knocked around for six earned runs in his season debut, Gausman has not allowed more than three earned runs in any of his following six starts, and now owns a neat 3.30 ERA over 43-2/3 innings. This season he has relied on his 93 mph four-seam fastball with arm-side run and an 83 mph worm killer splitter, while also mixing in an 81 mph 12-6 slider. He is 5-5 with a 3.57 ERA in 12 starts against the Rays. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (3-10, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Wilson Ramos (2-8, HR, RBI), Rob Refsnyder (3-8, 2B, BB), Mallex Smith (3-7, 3B, BB), Denard Span (4-9, 2 2B, 3 RBI), Jesus Sucre (2-6, 2 2B, RBI)

I will update this piece when Saturday’s starter for the Rays is announced.

Alex Cobb allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits and a walk, while striking out five over six innings in a loss to the Athletics on Sunday. Cobb has put together back-to-back quality starts, although he is bereft of his first win of the season. His offense failed him Sunday, as the Orioles were able to push across just one run. In spite of solid performances in his last two outings, Cobb still sits with a 7.61 ERA/5.32 FIP and 2.03 WHIP as a result of a disastrous start to the season. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (1-3, 2B, 2 RBI), Brad Miller (4-9, 2B, 2 RBI, BB), Daniel Robertson (1-2, 2B), Mallex Smith (1-2), Denard Span (2-3, 2B), Joey Wendle (2-3, RBI)

Chris Archer fanned six, walked none and scattered five hits over seven strong innings on Sunday. Previous to this start, Archer had performed to a 6.05 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP, but he notched his second consecutive quality start and his third in his last four outings. His current peripherals still aren’t pretty, and he hasn’t been striking out batters at quite as prolific a rate as he had in the past, but he appears ready to move past his early season struggles and start to hack away at those ugly peripherals. Archer is 6-8 with a 4.92 ERA in 17 starts against Baltimore, including a 5-1/3 inning, four-run outing on April 26th.

I will update this piece when Saturday’s starter for the Orioles is announced.

Blake Snell allowed one run on four hits and two walks over 6-1/3 innings on Tuesday against the Braves. He struck out five. The southpaw threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of 25 batters and induced 13 swinging strikes, allowing him to Atlanta’s lineup off balance for most of the night. His only real mistake came on a solo home run from Ronald Acuna in the third inning, on a slider that hung up over the middle of the plate. His loss was of the hard luck variety, as it was due to a lack of run support. Otherwise, Snell has been outstanding over his last six starts, allowing two runs or fewer in each while posting a 4.78 K/BB over that span. Snell is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three career starts against Baltimore,

Dylan Bundy allowed seven runs on five hits and two walks while not recording an out in the 15-7 loss to Kansas City on Tuesday. Bundy allowed four home runs over over a seven batter span, and managed to do so with only 28 pitches. Over his last three outings, Bundy has allowed 22 runs (19 earned) on 23 hits (including nine home runs) across just nine innings. Bundy started the season with a fantastic 1.42 ERA across 31-2/3 innings — with 40 punch outs and only one home run allowed — but has recently looked like a completely different pitcher. Bundy has relied primarily on his 92 mph four-seam fastball and an 82 mph slider, while also mixing in a 75 mph curveball, 84 mph changeup and 92 mph sinker. The right-hander is 1-3 with a 7.61 ERA in six career starts against Tampa Bay. Key Matchups: Carlos Gomez (1-4), Brad Miller (4-11, 2B, HR, RBI), Mallex Smith (4-7, RBI, BB), Joey Wendle (2-3, 2B, RBI)

Noteworthiness

— Left-hander Anthony Banda will be promoted at some point this weekend. It is not immediately clear whether he would be added to the roster Friday (someone would need to be optioned to make room) or if he is being added as the 26th man for Saturday’s doubleheader.

Banda is 4-2 with a 3.50 ERA in seven starts at Triple-A Durham, with 44 strikeouts and 16 walks over 36 innings. He was 2-3 with a 5.96 ERA in eight games last season for the Diamondbacks.

— The Rays have suffered another dent to their depth, as 21 year-old RHP Jose Mujica has been sidelined with a forearm strain. Mujica had shown well over his first six starts with Triple-A Durham, working to a 3.13 ERA with 32 punch outs against ten walks in 31-2/3 innings of work. His anticipated timeline is not yet known.

— The Orioles received another blow, as RHP Darren O’Day was placed on the 10-day DL with a hyper-extended right elbow. Steve Adams (MLB Trade Rumors) wrote about the injury, saying:

Eduardo A. Encina provides some insight into the injury that sent righty Darren O’Day to the 10-day disabled list with a hyperextended right elbow. O’Day explains that a “freak accident” occurred during the middle innings of Tuesday’s game as he began stretching and getting loose. A teammate inadvertently ran into his arm while he was stretching it, hyperextending the right elbow and initially causing O’Day to fear that he’d suffered a serious injury. An MRI revealed no structural damage in O’Day’s right arm, and manager Buck Showalter actually said that the MRI was “remarkably good” for a pitcher in his mid-30s.

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