Despite dropping the series finale in Toronto, snapping a four-game win streak, Kevin Kiermaier clubbed a pair of homers, accounting for two of the Rays three runs. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

The Tampa Bay Rays return home from a successful eight-game road trip, where they will begin a nine-game homestand on Friday. The first to come into Tropicana Field are the Baltimore Orioles, who the Rays will face for the last time of the 2018 season.

The AL East foes are knotted up at 8-8 on the season, and Tampa Bay enters the series eight games back in the AL Wildcard race.

(Stats Credit: ESPN)

Despite dropping the series finale against Toronto, 10-3, Tampa Bay returned from its eight-game road trip having won five games — three of which came against top ceded teams. The Rays have re-asserted themselves into the postseason chase (well, in the eyes of the mainstream sporting world … some of us have been banging the drum for the Rays all season) with a hot 19-8 stretch of play, thanks to a productive offense and solid pitching.

Meanwhile, Baltimore — which is trying to stave off the inevitable 100 loss season — is coming off a series loss against the Seattle Mariners, having lost 15 of the last 20 games overall.

(Stats Credit: FanGraphs)

Suffice it to say, the Rays, somehow, have met a formidable opponent in the Orioles this season. Yet six of their eight wins have come under the big top, where they outscored the Birds 26-18. They say you must beat the teams beneath you, and well … the Orioles are the worst team in baseball. Tampa Bay needs to use this series as a springboard before the two important series that follow, against Cleveland and Oakland.

Pitching Probables

Based on when they last pitched, Kevin Cash will likely lean primarily on Blake Snell (17-5, 2.02 ERA), Ryan Yarbrough (13-5, 3.68 ERA), and Yonny Chirinos (3-5, 3.76 ERA) this weekend. Buck Showalter will counter with Dylan Bundy (7-13, 5.36 ERA), David Hess (3-9, 5.24 ERA), and Alex Cobb (5-15, 4.97 ERA).

(Stats Credit: FanGraphs)

Blake Snell allowed three hits (a single and two doubles), a walk, and three stolen bases in the first two innings of his last start. A throwing error by Matt Duffy in the second inning — when Cleveland took a two-run lead — certainly didn’t help. From there, however, the southpaw didn’t allow a runner beyond first base. He retired 10 consecutive batters before giving up a two-out single to Erik Gonzalez in the seventh inning and struck out four in a row during one stretch.

All told, Snell gave up two runs (one earned) on eight hits and a walk while striking out nine on 101 pitches (62 strikes, 61% strike rate, 14/27 first-pitch strikes) across 6-2/3 innings. At 17 wins on the season, the left-hander is tied with Luis Severino and Corey Kluber — two other top candidates for the Cy Young Award — for the most wins in the majors. Snell is 5-0 in his last six starts while his 2.02 ERA is second in the AL behind Chris Sale (1.97 ERA).

Dylan Bundy allowed three runs on eight hits and a walk across 5-1/3 innings on Saturday. He struck out eight. The right-hander threw 71 of 101 pitches for strikes (70% strike rate) in his best start in almost a month — Bundy had otherwise been hammered for 25 runs in 19-1/3 innings over his previous four outings. After dishing up eight runs (seven earned) in his first start of the season against Tampa Bay (April 26), Bundy has allowed just three runs in his two subsequent two. Key Matchups: Jake Bauers (1-3, HR, RBI), CJ Cron (4-13, 2B, 3 HR, 4 RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (2-7, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Mallex Smith (4-12, HR, 2 RBI), Joey Wendle (2-8, 2B, RBI)

Ryan Yarbrough tossed five innings of relief on Sunday, allowing one run on two hits and a walk while striking out three against Cleveland. The southpaw took the mound in the second inning after opener Diego Castillo tossed a scoreless first, and held Cleveland scoreless until the seventh when he allowed an RBI single to Jose Ramirez, knocking him out of the game. Yarbrough has lowered his ERA to 3.68, with a 2.67 K/BB, thanks to a 21-1/3 inning stretch where he has allowed just two earned runs total.

David Hess allowed five runs (four earned) on nine hits across four innings on Sunday against the Royals. He struck out three and threw just 10/21 first-pitch strikes. Hess was scored upon in three different innings and had an unearned run that originated from his own wild pitch. Hess was coming off three consecutive quality starts — perhaps his best stretch of the season. The right-hander held Tampa Bay scoreless across six innings in his first meeting of the season (May 25), but allowed three runs on four hits in 5-2/3 innings on August 9. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (1-2, HR, RBI, BB), Matt Duffy (4-9, 2B, HR, 4 RBI), Joey Wendle (4-5, BB) 

Yonny Chirinos put together another one of those spotty nights where he looked both terrible and terrific. His first inning was so bad, laboring through 25 pitches including back to back walks — and forcing Rays skipper Kevin Cash to get the bullpen warmed up early — then, with a refocused verve, zipped through the next six innings on just 47 pitches. When all was said and done, Chirinos threw seven innings of one-run ball, allowing just four hits, but three walks, on 72 efficient pitches (42 strikes, 58% strikes, 10.3 pitches per inning). The right-hander coaxed 12 ground balls, including three double plays.

Alex Cobb allowed one run on four hits and three walks while striking out two over six innings against the Mariners on Tuesday. Cobb allowed a solo home run to Robinson Cano in the first inning, then settled down the rest of the way to notch his seventh quality start in eight tries. The former Ray has worked to an impressive 2.73 ERA over 52-2/3 innings in that span, although the damage on his season-long peripherals (4.97 ERA, 1.42 WHIP) has already been done thanks to a dreadful start to his 2018 campaign. Cobb is 0-3 with a 4.63 ERA in four starts against his former team, although his last start was very good, as the right-hander limited the Rays to one run on five hits and two walks across seven innings. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (1-3), Jake Bauers (2-6, 2 RBI), Ji-Man Choi (2-3, 2B, RBI), Matt Duffy (2-6), Mallex Smith (4-8, 2B), Joey Wendle (4-11, 2 RBI)

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