I don’t understand how a heart is a spade, but somehow the vital connection is made. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays, Caption Credit: Elastica)

After a two-game sweep of the Phillies and an off-day, the Tampa Bay Rays make one last stop in Baltimore, where they will start a three-game set against the Orioles on Friday. Baltimore snapped its 19-game losing streak by taking two-out-of-three from the Angels.

At 79-48 on the season, the Rays enter their final series against Baltimore a season-high 31-games above .500, and 4.0 games ahead of the Yankees in the division.

It was a tale of two different Rays in Philadelphia. On Tuesday, Tampa Bay eked out a traditional Rays’ win, limiting the Phillies to just one run, while 1B/DH Nelson Cruz provided a pair of timely (and of course, late) runs for the go-ahead lead. Then, in the series finale, Tampa Bay traded blows throughout the contest until Francisco Mejía dealt Zack Wheeler and Philadelphia the death blow on a ninth-inning, +400 foot three-run blast. All told, they scored 10 runs while going 4-for-17 wRISP.

The Rays have exploited the Orioles’ pitching this season … that includes Brandon Lowe, who has bashed five home runs along with a remarkable 19 RBI in 61 at-bats against Baltimore. Lowe is clearly one of the most underrated players in the big leagues, collecting 30 homers and 76 RBI — 24 in the month of August — to go along with a 132 wRC+ and a 3.7 fWAR.

Baltimore’s pitching has been an issue all season, while the offense posted respectable numbers into their abysmal 19-game losing streak. Still, they scored four runs or fewer in all but three of their losses, although it would appear they have heated up again after scoring 34 runs over the last three games.

Tampa Bay is 15-1 against Baltimore thus far. As Neil Solondz (Rays Radio) noted, the 15 wins are tied for the most the Rays have had against a single opponent. Tampa Bay also won 15 games in 2008 against Baltimore.

So just a single win will surpass that mark. A victory also will give the Rays their best winning percentage (.842) against a club within the division. The goal of each set is to win a series. Do that and Tampa Bay would be 17-2.

— Neil Solondz

Pitching Probables

Over the next three days, Kevin Cash will turn to Shane McClanahan (8-4, 3.63 ERA), Michael Wacha (2-4, 5.88 ERA), and Chris Archer (0-1, 4.26 ERA). Brandon Hyde will counter with Matt Harvey (6-13, 6.27 ERA), John Means (5-6, 3.50 ERA), and Spenser Watkins (2-6, 7.07 ERA).

Shane McClanahan held the Orioles to one run on five hits and a walk while striking out eight across five innings two Thursdays ago. McClanahan cruised to his fourth straight win by tying his career-high with eight punchouts while doing so on only 79 pitches (54 strikes, 68% strike rate, 20% SwStr). It was the ninth time this season that the southpaw has pitched into at least the sixth inning. On the season, McClanahan maintains a 3.63 ERA and a 3.31 FIP, with a 1.28 WHIP, and a 3.65 K/BB across 94.1 innings. He is 3-0 with a 2.65 ERA in three starts against Baltimore this season.

Matt Harvey allowed four runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out five over 5.1 innings against Atlanta on Saturday. Three of the seven hits Harvey gave up in the contest went for extra bases, including two long balls. After a five-game stretch from June 30 to July 30 during which the veteran hurler didn’t surrender any home runs (26.1 innings), he has given up six homers across 19 frames over his past four starts. The last three of those outings have been losses, and he is now tied for the second-most losses in baseball with 13. Harvey is 0-2 with a 15.63 ERA across two starts against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (1-2), Yandy Díaz (1-1), Kevin Kiermaier (1-2, HR, RBI), Brandon Lowe (2-4, HR, RBI), Austin Meadows (2-6, 3B, HR, 5 RBI), Joey Wendle (1-3)

Michael Wacha allowed four runs (two earned) on eight hits over five innings last Friday against the White Sox. He struck out nine without walking a batter on 100 pitches (69 strikes, 69% strike rate). His nine whiffs tied a season-high for the right-handed hurler. Wacha hasn’t pitched more than five innings in any of his seven starts since the All-Star Break, but the tight leash hasn’t led to better results as he maintains a 7.64 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, a 7.6 K/BB, and a 2.5 HR/9 in 33 innings over that stretch. In three combined starts against Baltimore this season, Wacha has allowed nine runs on 18 hits (including four home runs) and two walks while striking out just four.

John Means allowed three runs on four hits and two walks while striking out five across six innings against Atlanta on Sunday. Means had allowed 13 runs (10 earned) in 8.1 innings across his last two starts, although he fared slightly better on Sunday. In seven starts since the All-Star Break, the southpaw has performed to a 5.84 ERA and a 5.79 FIP, with a 1.35 WHIP in 37 innings. Means is 0-2 with a 6.20 ERA in four starts against Tampa Bay this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (6-10, 2 2B, 2 HR, 2 RBI), Yandy Díaz (4-15, 2 2B, HR, RBI), Wander Franco (2-8, RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (5-13, 2B, RBI), Manuel Margot (5-10, 2B, RBI, BB), Joey Wendle (2-7)

Chris Archer was pulled after two innings in his start Sunday against the White Sox due to left hip tightness. He gave up one hit and one walk while striking out four over two scoreless innings on 41 pitches. After being reinstated from the 60-day Injured List following a four-plus-month absence, the right-hander was expected to be limited to around five innings or 75 pitches. Archer ultimately succumbed to the hip issue, which previously bothered him during a minor-league rehab outing a few weeks back. He threw a successful bullpen session Wednesday and received the okay to throw in the series finale, although he likely will be faced with similar pitching constraints.

Spenser Watkins surrendered eight runs on seven hits and no walks while striking out three across two innings on Tuesday against the Angels. Aside from not walking any batters, Watkins failed to show any improvements Tuesday. He has now allowed 22 earned runs across his last 16 innings over his past four starts. His ERA is 12.38 over that stretch. Watkins is 1-2 with a 5.06 ERA in three starts against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (3-4, 2B, RBI, BB), Nelson Cruz (3-6, 2B, HR, 2 RBI), Wander Franco (2-6, 2B, RBI), Brandon Lowe (2-7, 2B, RBI, BB), Manuel Margot (2-3, 2B), Francisco Mejía (2-3, 2B), Brett Phillips (1-2, 2B, RBI), Joey Wendle (2-8, 2B)


— The Rays made another roster move ahead of the series, activating RHP Pete Fairbanks and optioning Louis Head to Triple-A Durham in order to clear a spot on the 26-man roster.

— J.P. Feyereisen and David Robertson are progressing well and close to joining the big league squad. Robertson fanned his only batter as he finished back-to-back outings for Triple-A Durham.

— Matt Wisler is close, but Kevin Cash wants to make sure he’s 100% before activating him, so it’s not likely to happen this weekend.

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