Nelson Cruz didn’t have the best day at the plate on Sunday.

After a 6-3 road trip, unfortunately, capped by a series loss in Minneapolis, the Tampa Bay Rays return to the friendly confines of Tropicana Field, where they will start a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday. The Orioles are coming off a series sweep at the hands of the Red Sox.

At 71-47 on the season, the Rays enter play 24-games above .500 and three games up on the Red Sox in the division.

Tampa Bay averaged 4.67 runs per game against the Twins, yet that was because of their 10-run outburst on Friday. Since then, the Rays were limited to just four runs across the final 18 innings of the series. They’ll look to get back on track against a team they’ve had a lot of success against.

The Orioles had put together a nice 10-5 stretch from July 17 to August 2, yet they have come crashing down to earth ever since — having won just once this month. They’ve surrendered nine or more runs in seven of 10 games played since the end of July, including 16 on Saturday.

Despite the lag in success, the Orioles do have a decent offense — performing to a 105 wRC+ over the last two weeks. As it was the last time the Rays faced them, the problem with Baltimore is the pitching staff which has performed to combined an 8.91 ERA and a 6.25 FIP over the aforementioned stretch — a 7.90 ERA and a 5.52 FIP for the starters, and a 10.06 ERA and a 7.07 FIP for the relief corps. In other words, if the Rays fall behind the Orioles, they should be able to put up some runs against their ‘pen.

Pitching Probables

Over the next four days, Kevin Cash will turn to Josh Fleming (9-6, 4.96 ERA) behind Collin McHugh, Drew Rasmussen (1-0, 3.81 ERA), Shane McClanahan (7-4, 3.74 ERA), and Michael Wacha (2-4, 5.91 ERA). Brandon Hyde will counter with Matt Harvey (6-11, 6.10 ERA), John Means (5-4, 3.21 ERA), Spenser Watkins (2-4, 5.25 ERA), and Jorge Lopez (3-13, 6.14 ERA).

Josh Fleming allowed 10 earned runs on 11 hits and six walks while striking out three across 3.1 innings on Wednesday against the Red Sox. Fleming couldn’t get on track at any point in the outing, allowing doubles to each of the first three batters he faced and two more extra-base hits in the second inning. The left-hander managed a scoreless third frame before imploding by allowing five additional earned runs in the fourth inning prior to being pulled. Though Fleming entered the game with a respectable 4.12 ERA and 1.18 WHIP, he has been hit hard on several occasions. Fleming has surrendered five or more earned runs in four of his 19 appearances this season, necessitating the decision to have him pitch behind an opener. He is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in one four-inning outing against the Orioles this season.

Matt Harvey gave up three runs on eight hits and three walks over five innings on Wednesday against the Tigers. He struck out five. The right-hander didn’t pitch poorly and held Detroit scoreless for four frames, although he faded in the fifth and received no run support. Harvey’s brief run of success after the All-Star Break has ended with a thud, and on the season he maintains a 6.10 ERA and a 4.45 FIP, with a 1.56 WHIP, and 2.44 K/BB through 103.1 innings. He allowed seven runs (six earned) on seven hits (including two homers) in one 1.2 inning outing against Tampa Bay this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-2), Yandy Diaz (1-1), Brandon Lowe (1-2), Austin Meadows (1-4, HR, 3 RBI), Brett Phillips (1-3, HR, 3 RBI), Joey Wendle (1-1)

Drew Rasmussen struck out four over four innings of one-run ball while starting on Thursday in Boston. Following Ryan Yarbrough’s placement on the COVID-19 Injured List, Rasmussen will pick up another turn through the rotation. Even if Yarbrough makes it back from the IL for next weekend’s series against Chicago, Rasmussen could remain in the rotation if he performs well against Baltimore, given the extent to which back-end starters Josh Fleming and Michael Wacha have struggled of late. Rasmussen should throw around 60-to-75 pitches Tuesday after he was pulled after 50 pitches in last week’s start.

John Means allowed six runs on eight hits and a walk across 4.1 innings on Thursday against the Tigers, fanning three. Means was coming off back-to-back starts allowing just one earned run, however, his issues with the long ball resurfaced, as he surrendered three homers and now has given up at least two long balls in six of his last nine outings. The left-hander saw his ERA climb to 3.21 following this outing, and he has given up at least four runs in three of his last five starts. Means is 0-1 with a 5.51 ERA in three starts against Tampa Bay this season. Key Matchups: (Randy Arozarena (3-7, 2B, 2 HR, 2 RBI), Mike Brosseau (5-11, 4 RBI, 6 RBI), Yandy Diaz (4-13, 2 2B, HR, RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (4-11, 2B, 2 RBI), Jordan Luplow (2-7, 2B, HR, 2 RBI, BB), Manuel Margot (4-8, BB), Joey Wendle (2-7)

Ryan Yarbrough got the start against the Orioles on Friday and allowed five runs on nine hits while striking out four across five innings. Yarbrough again kept his walks in check, yet the excellent control he has displayed all season hasn’t been enough of late. And while a .414 BABIP and a few weakly hit balls that resulted in extra bases speak to some bad luck on behalf of the left-hander, Yarbough allowed five hard hits, good for a 26.3% barrel rate — his highest of the season. He has allowed five runs or more in three of his last four starts and owns a 5.51 ERA with a 1.26 WHIP across six starts since the start of July.

Spenser Watkins allowed six runs on seven hits and three walks with only one strikeout across four innings on Friday versus Boston. After a decent first inning, Watkins surrendered four runs in the second and one more in the third and fourth each. Watkins’ performance is trending in the wrong direction — he’s allowed four or more runs in each of his last four turns. He now has a 5.25 ERA and a 4.96 FIP, with a 1.44 WHIP, and a 1.64 K/BB in 36 innings. Watkins is 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (2-3, 2B, RBI), Ji-Man Choi (1-2, BB), Nelson Cruz (2-3, 2B, HR, 2 RBI), Manuel Margot (2-3, 2B), Francisco Mejia (1-1), Brett Phillips (1-2, 2B, RBI)

Michael Wacha got the start Saturday against the Twins, and in an act of self-immolation, the right-hander allowed seven runs on 11 hits and one walk with five strikeouts across five innings. Max Kepler greeted Wacha with a leadoff solo shot two pitches into the ballgame, setting the tone for the entire outing. The right-hander allowed four runs in the first inning and three more in the third, punctuated by a Luis Arraez two-run homer. He did settle in to retire six of the seven batters he faced in the fourth and fifth innings, but the damage was already done. Wacha has now surrendered an astounding 30 hits and 18 earned runs in his last 14 innings pitched.

Following the game, Wacha told Tricia Whitaker (Bally Sports FL) that he intends to keep working through whatever is hampering him.

I believe I’m a better pitcher than what I have shown recently. It’s a terrible feeling putting the team in that situation today. But there’s no quit in me, I’m going to keep working.

— Michael Wacha

With Chris Archer’s return pending, as well as the specter of Shane Baz looming, it would be safe to say Wacha is fighting to keep his job. Overall, Wacha maintains a 5.91 ERA and a 5.09 FIP across 85.1 innings, with a 1.51 WHIP and a 3.17 K/BB. He is 0-0 with a 6.75 ERA in three starts against Baltimore this season.

Jorge Lopez coughed up seven runs on nine hits and two walks over 3.1 innings against the Red Sox on Saturday. He fanned one. The right-hander had managed to avoid taking a loss in five consecutive turns coming into Saturday, although his 5.01 ERA over that stretch was hardly good. Boston quickly evaporated that modest streak with a four-run first inning. Lopez carries a 6.14 ERA and a 5.13 FIP with a 1.92 K/BB through 111.1 innings this season. He is 0-1 with a 5.91 ERA in two starts against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-3, HR, 2 RBI), Mike Brosseau (2-4), Ji-Man Choi (1-3, 3 BB), Nelson Cruz (3-12, 2 HR, 3 RB, 2 BB), Kevin Kiermaier (4-7, 2B, RBI), Brandon Lowe (5-9, 2B, 3 RBI), Manuel Margot (2-6, RBI), Austin Meadows (2-6, HR, RBI), Francisco Mejia (1-1, 3B, BB), Joey Wendle (4-10, 2 2B, RBI)

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