The Tampa Bay Rays left the confines of Tropicana Field after a 3-3 home stand, including another series win against the New York Yankees. (Photo Credit: X-Rays Spex)

The Tampa Bay Rays head to Baltimore to battle the last place Orioles in a four-game series at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, starting Thursday. The Rays rebounded from an ugly series loss against Miami to take two of three from the Yankees, while the Orioles split a rain shortened two-game set against Boston.

(Stats Credit: ESPN)

Tampa Bay made a pair of trades that will impact the team in the present and future tenses, dealing Nathan Eovaldi and Matt Andriese for southpaw Jalen Beeks, catcher Michael Pérez and RHP Brian Shaffer. Beeks and Pérez are expected to join the team on the road in Baltimore.

Pérez, 25, is highly regarded for his defensive prowess as well as his ability to hit right-handed pitching. He’s gunned down 34.8% of would be base stealers this season, and is slashing .284 BA/.342 OBP/.417 SLG/.759 OPS/.338 wOBA/99 wRC+ with nine doubles, six homers and 29 RBI in 58 games for Triple-A Reno. He is a career .246 BA/.321 OBP/.396 SLG/.717 OPS hitter over 572 games across eight Minor League seasons.

In adding the new backstop to the roster, the Rays designated catcher Adam Moore for assignment. The tandem of Jesus Sucre and Pérez should, if anything, help maintain the team’s offensive productivity over the balance of the season, especially if Wilson Ramos is moved within the next month.

When Perez and Beeks appear in a game, that will mean the Rays have had 19 rookies play and 48 different players this season. The youth wave has been learning and winning at the same time.

The Rays enter the series as fringe contenders in the AL Wildcard race, which isn’t lost on General Manager Erik Neander. Yet they are expected to make a few more deals by the trade deadline, with SS Adeiny Hechavarria, OF Carlos Gomez, Ramos, and RHP Sergio Romo said to be on the market. Yet the moves shouldn’t be viewed as a team that is conceding or waiving the white flag, rather the Rays are working on the now rather than only the distant future.

I hope that the current look and feel of this team and this roster, that there’s a different vibe to our fans than there has been the last few years, Neander said. I really hope that. There is for us. There is in the clubhouse. Will we win more games this year than we did last year? I don’t know. But there’s a trend line on this, there’s an arrow that’s pointing up instead of neutral with this group and what’s ahead of them, and it gives a lot of hope and excitement for the future. And that’s different.

That changes the focus a little bit, to just being a little more balanced to the now than the future than I think we have been.

(Stats Credit: FanGraphs)

The Rays enter the series with Baltimore nine games back in the AL Wildcard race with an easier schedule over than either the Mariners (13 series vs. +.500 teams) or Athletics (12 series vs. +500 teams) with just over two months left to play. A series win would give Tampa Bay a W/L record of five or six games over .500 by the time the returns home for a nine-game home stand against three sub .500 ball clubs. Meanwhile, the Athletics will move on to a series against the fringe contending Rockies, while the Mariners have a few games against the Angels before they face the AL West leading Houston Astros.

All this is to say the Rays find themselves with an excellent opportunity to gain some ground in the Wildcard race against the worst team in baseball, which happens to be in the throes of a historically bad season.

Pitching Probables

As of right now the Rays have confirmed one opener and one starter for the series: Hunter Wood (0-0, 2.93 ERA) and Chris Archer (3-4, 4.30 ERA). The known known, Jaylen Beeks (5-5, 2.89 ERA at AAA) is expected to pitch at some point during the series … I assumed that might be on Saturday, although that will likely change. I’ll update things as they become clear. Buck Showalter will counter with Alex Cobb (2-13, 6.17 ERA), Andrew Cashner (2-9, 4.40 ERA), Kevin Gausman (4-8, 4.54 ERA), and Yefry Ramirez (1-3, 4.24 ERA).

(Stats Credit: FanGraphs)

Hunter Wood allowed one run on two hits and a walk while striking out two over two innings against the Yankees on Monday. Kevin Cash elected to use Wood as an opener for the second time this season, and he was lifted after tossing 37 pitches. Wood has been an effective arm out of the ‘pen this season, as he’s posted a 2.93 ERA and 1.30 WHIP with 14 strikeouts over 15-1/3 innings. However, 4.40 FIP suggest regression is due. Whatever the case, the right-handed Austin Pruitt or Ryan Yarbrough figure to pitch the bulk of the innings on Thursday.

Alex Cobb allowed four runs (one earned) on four hits and three walks against Toronto on Saturday. He struck out four. The former Ray got through three scoreless innings without really being threatened before he gave up three runs in a fourth inning in which Tim Beckham’s error played a key role. Since three of the four runs were unearned, Cobb lowered his ERA to a still-ugly 6.17. So far he is 0-2 with a 6.97 ERA in two starts this season (10-1/3 innings) against his former team. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (2-6, 2B, HR, 3 RBI), Daniel Robertson (1-4, 2B, RBI), Mallex Smith (2-4, 2B), Joey Wendle (3-5, 2 RBI)

Chris Archer allowed four runs (three earned) on eight hits while striking out 13 over six innings against the Marlins on Sunday. Archer collected a season-high 13 strikeouts in his 16th outing of the season and now sits with a 3.41 K/BB over 90 innings of work. Archer looks to improve his 4.30 ERA ahead of the trade deadline (it now appears the Rays may hold on to the right-hander).

Andrew Cashner allowed one run on six hits and one walk across 5-2/3 innings on Sunday. He struck out two. Cashner surrendered his lone run in the fourth inning, and he was lifted from the game in the sixth inning after throwing 79 pitches (51 strikes, 65% strike rate). While Cashner improved on his previous outing (five runs over 6-1/3 innings vs. the Yankees), he couldn’t collect the victory. The 31-year-old is 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA against the Rays this season after allowing five runs on 11 hits and four walks over five innings on May 26. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (3-4, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB), Matt Duffy (4-16, 3B, RBI, 2 BB), Daniel Robertson (3-3, 2B), Joey Wendle (1-3, 3B, RBI)

Jaylen Beeks is 34-28 with a 3.63 ERA in parts of five Minor League seasons, including a 5-5 record and a 3.29 ERA with Triple-A Pawtucket this season. He had two appearances for Boston in 2018, but he didn’t fare too well. In his first start against Detroit, Beeks allowed six runs over four innings of work, and in a relief appearance against the Rangers he allowed three runs in 2-1/3 innings. Yet in in Triple-A, he was named to the All-Star Game thanks in part to a 33% strikeout rate which leads qualified pitchers in the league. He’s also only walking seven percent of opposing batters.

Stuff wise, Beeks previously relied on a two-seam fastball and a slider at the start of his career, although he currently relies on a 92 mph four-seam fastball, a whiffy 86 mph changeup, a 75 mph curveball with sharp downward bite, and an 88 mph cutter with good “rise,” which has aided in his growth.

Kevin Gausman gave up five runs on three hits and three walks while striking out two over 4-2/3 innings on Monday against the Red Sox. Gausman allowed a second inning solo homer, followed by four runs in the fifth on just three hits. He exited the ballgame with a five-run deficit after tossing 79 pitches (44 strikes, 56% strike rate). The right-hander has struggled over his past two outings, surrendering 10 runs over 9-2/3 innings while striking out just four. Gausman is 1-1 in two starts this season against Tampa Bay. In his first outing he surrendered just two runs on 11 hits over 7-1/3 innings of work, but his second start against the Rays didn’t go nearly as well, as Gausman allowed seven runs on six hit over 2-2/3 innings on May 27. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (5-15, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Matt Duffy (2-4), Mallex Smith (3-12, 3B, RBI, BB), Jesus Sucre (2-6, 2 2B, RBI), Joey Wendle (2-6, RBI)

Tampa Bay’s starter in the series finale is TBA.

Yefry Ramirez allowed three runs on four hits and a walk over five innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday. He struck out six. Ramirez gave up three solo home runs but otherwise earned his first big league win against one of the top offenses in baseball. The 24-year-old has been solid through his first six starts with a 3.49 ERA/4.61 FIP, 1.16 WHIP and 3.00 K/BB over 28-1/3 innings. This season he has relied primarily on his 87 mph cutter with strong cutting action, an 83 mph changeup and a 90 mph sinker with some armside run, while also mixing in a 91 mph four-seam fastball and an 83 mph slider.

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