Yandy is pumped for the upcoming series vs. Baltimore. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

After a series win against Atlanta, bolstered by a pair of come from behind victories, the Tampa Bay Rays return to the Trop, if just briefly, where they will start a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles on Monday. The Orioles took two of three from the Royals this weekend past.

Tampa Bay enters play at 55-38 on the season, 17-games over .500, and just a half-game out of first place in the division behind Boston, who fell to the Yankees on Sunday, 9-1. That’s the closest the Rays have been to first place since the end of June.

The Rays are 21-5 in the last 26 games at home, and 6-0 against Baltimore this season. Meanwhile, the Orioles took the last two contests against Kansas City after rattling off just two wins in 10 tries.

The Rays continue to steadily build from where they left off in the batter’s box — series to series, that is — performing to a 114 wRC+ and a 4.7 wRAA over the last two weeks. They’ve put up a fairly powerful .191 ISO and .438 SLG, as well as a .331 wOBA over that stretch. Meanwhile, it would appear that the Orioles are heading in the opposite direction, performing to an 88 wRC+ and a -4.0 wRAA, while putting up a .130 ISO, a .370 SLG, and a .298 wOBA over the same stretch.

This series will come down to pitch execution. While the Rays won their last series, they also allowed 20 total runs (good for a -6 run differential), including eight runs allowed with two outs. Can the pitching staff make the proper adjustment and and throw quality strikes? Only time will tell.

Pitching Probables

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Ryan Yarbrough (6-3, 4.30 ERA), Shane McClanahan (3-3, 4.05 ERA), and likely Michael Wacha (2-2, 5.14 ERA) … although he hasn’t been officially named as Wednesday’s starter. Brandon Hyde will counter with Spenser Watkins (1-0, 1.74 ERA), John Means (4-2, 2.28 ERA), and a pitcher to be named before the series finale.

Ryan Yarbrough got the start two Saturday’s ago against the Blue Jays and allowed two runs on five hits across five innings of work. He struck out four and walked two on 104 pitches (66 strikes, 63% strike rate). It was another solid outing for the left-hander who negligibly lowered his ERA from 4.34 to 4.30. He tossed a pair of scoreless innings before surrendering a two-run homer to Marcus Semien in the third. Yarbrough settled down though and threw two more scoreless frames before his day was done. He enters the second half of the season with a 4.30 FIP, a 1.18 WHIP, and a 4.65 K/BB across 96.1 innings on the season. He is 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA in two starts against the Orioles this season.

Spenser Watkins allowed one run on four hits and three walks across 4.1 innings against the White Sox two Sunday’s ago, while fanning four. The right-hander has made just two starts (three appearances overall) during his rookie campaign. He’s allowed just one run in each of those starts and sports a 1.74 ERA across 10.1 innings of work. He, however, is likely to come back down to earth though since he sported a 3.58 ERA in the minors before being promoted. All told, he maintains a 5.01 FIP, a 1.26 WHIP, and a 1.00 K/BB on the season. Watkins relies primarily on a 90 mph four-seam fastball, an 85 mph cutter, and a 78 mph curveball.

Shane McClanahan allowed one run on four hits and three walks over four innings against the Blue Jays two Friday’s ago. He struck out five. In a matchup featuring Alek Manoah and McClanahan, neither pitcher lasted until the fifth inning. Tampa Bay’s rookie southpaw tossed 58 of 91 pitches for strikes (64% strike rate) in an inefficient outing, although he did fan at least five batters for the fourth consecutive start. McClanahan maintains a 4.05 ERA and a 3.80 FIP on the season, with a 1.27 WHIP and 3.38 K/BB across 60.0 innings.

John Means will be activated from the IL to start Tuesday’s game. It’s been an eventful year for Means, who logged the best start of his career — a no-hitter on May 5 in Seattle — amid a breakout season before missing almost six weeks due to a shoulder injury. He made three rehab appearances, building up to three innings in each of his last two outings, and he will likely be on some sort of pitch count Tuesday night. Overall, Means maintains a 2.28 ERA and a 4.20 FIP on the season, with a 0.83 WHIP and 5.31 K/BB across 71.0 innings. He is 0-0 with a 5.68 ERA in one 6.1 inning start against Tampa Bay this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozrena (1-4, HR, RBI), Yandy Díaz (3-10, 2B, HR, RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (2-7, 2B), Joey Wendle (2-7)

Michael Wacha got the start Friday and allowed four runs on five hits and two walks while striking out five across four innings. Wacha held Atlanta scoreless for the first three innings but allowed two home runs in the third to give them a 3-2 lead. The right-hander was pulled in the fifth inning after he surrendered a leadoff single which came around to score when Freddie Freeman launched a two-run homer against J.P. Feyereisen, who took over for Wacha in relief. Wacha has been quite unpredictable this season; over his last four outings, he’s had two in which he’s allowed one run or less and two in which he’s allowed at least four runs. Wacha stands at a 5.14 ERA and a 4.90 FIP, with a 1.35 WHIP, and a 3.06 K/BB over 61.1 innings on the season. He is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in a two inning opener against Baltimore this season.

TBA

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