Tampa Bay Rays' Manuel Margot turns away from the plate after striking out as Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim stands up to head to the dugout in the fourth inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, July 19, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Rays Fall to Second in AL East; Begin Series with Division Leading Orioles

The Tampa Bay Rays, who had been atop the AL East since the start of the Major League Baseball season, have fallen to second place in the division. After their hot start, the Rays are now starting to show weaknesses and are proving the team isn’t invincible. The Baltimore Orioles are now sitting in first place with a 60-39 record. However, the two teams will face off in a four-game series beginning Thursday, and Tampa Bay will have the opportunity retake the division lead.

The Rays Hot Start

Tampa Bay had one of the strongest starts to a season in baseball history by winning their first 13 games. No one expected that dominance to continue, but they had proven this wasn’t a freak accident after a 23-6 record in April. The Rays are well known for their pitching staff and innovative ways to score runs, but a surge of power has come to light. In 2022, the Rays were 25th in team home runs. This year, they are fourth in home runs and already have more than their entire 2022 season.

Pitching Staff

The Rays still have the best ERA on the year with a 3.73, but things have gotten dicey over the past two months. In the month of July, the team ERA is sitting at a 4.48 which is 18th overall in baseball. The bullpen has been solid, but a struggling and injury ridden rotation is causing them to faulter.

Drew Rasmussen was one of the best pitchers in baseball at the start of the year. He recorded a 2.62 ERA but was shut down for the season after only eight starts. Additionally, lefty Jeffrey Springs was set to have a major impact on the rotation but is also out for the year.

Taj Bradley has been in the rotation regularly since these injuries and while he has a strong arsenal, he has struggled with getting hitters out. The lack of starters are forcing them to use a four-man rotation and use up a lot of their bullpen. Shane McClanahan is having a dominant year and was one of the Rays’ All-Stars this year. He recently came back from the injured list on Monday and pitched well.


The Surging Orioles

While Tampa Bay has been struggling as of late, the Orioles are taking advantage. In one of the most dominant divisions in baseball, Baltimore has stunned baseball fans by exceeding expectations. Last season, despite finishing fourth in the division, they nearly snuck into a Wild Card spot in the new playoff format. Even though they failed to make the playoffs, they ended the season accomplishing one of the biggest turnarounds in franchise history after losing 110 games in 2021. The Orioles not only have playoff hopes this year, but could win the AL East for the first time since 2014.

Baltimore is another team seeing a major impact by calling up their young prospects. Last year brought the rise of switch hitting catcher Adley Rutschman and shortstop Gunnar Henderson.

Similar to the Rays, the Orioles are struggling on starting pitching. The team has a decent bullpen and one of the best closers in the game in Felix Bautista, but four of their starters have an ERA well over 4.50.

The team is starting to make moves on bolstering their rotation and acquired Shintaro Fujinami from the Oakland Athletics Wednesday. Fujinami came from Japan this year and has struggled, but Baltimore thinks they can find something in him.

July Series

The Rays will face off against the Orioles in their third meeting of the year. This allows Tampa Bay to be in control of their own destiny to first place. However, the Orioles are not going to give that up easy. Since the second half of the season began, Baltimore has a 4-2 record while Tampa Bay has a 2-4 record.

The good news for the Rays is that all four of their healthy starters will available for the series. Tyler Glasnow is set to start Thursday and Shane McClanahan is scheduled to get the start on Saturday.

This is a pivotal series for both teams and could be a deciding factor in the race to the top of the AL East. First pitch is scheduled for 6:40 p.m.

About Matthew Maddox

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