(Photo credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
The Tampa Bay Rays visit the Baltimore Orioles for a four-game series beginning Thursday with first place in the American League East on the line.
Baltimore (91-54) has a two-game lead over Tampa Bay (90-57), but the Orioles stumbled by losing two of three to the visiting St. Louis Cardinals to start the week. The Rays have won five of six overall after taking two of three from the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis.
"Everyone understands the standings and where we are from the finish line," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. "We've got to play really well against a really good club."
The Orioles have won six of the first nine meetings between the teams, including two of three at home. Baltimore needs just one win in the upcoming series to clinch the season series and a tiebreaker advantage.
"Everyone knows it's a big series," Rays reliever Robert Stephenson said. "But at the same time, you have to continue playing baseball the same way we've been playing all season long. And if we do that, we're going to take care business in Baltimore."
Stephenson got the save on Wednesday when the Rays squandered a four-run lead against the Twins but won 5-4 thanks to Randy Arozarena's two-out homer in the ninth.
"This is the time of the year that you probably need your best players to perform best, and Randy certainly is one of ours," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said. "He got every bit of that ball. That ball went a long way. He picked our dugout up."
Knowing the Rays had won their matinee, the Orioles couldn't respond Wednesday night, managing just three hits in a 1-0 loss to St. Louis.
Drew Rom, a Baltimore minor-leaguer when he was sent to the Cardinals as part of the trade for Jack Flaherty at the deadline last month, combined with four relievers on the shutout.
Baltimore's Gunnar Henderson tripled with two outs in the ninth, but St. Louis closer Ryan Helsley retired Aaron Hicks on a game-ending flyout.
The Orioles scored a total of two runs in losing the past two games. They went a combined 1-for-18 with runners in scoring position in those contests.
Baltimore first baseman Ryan Mountcastle exited the game in the third inning due to left shoulder discomfort stemming from a first-inning swing. He will undergo an MRI exam on Thursday.
"Obviously, you don't want to lose anybody right now and especially Ryan," Hyde said. "We'll see. Hopefully, he's OK (on Thursday)."
Orioles right-hander Kyle Bradish (11-6, 3.03 ERA) will oppose Rays right-hander Aaron Civale (7-3, 2.96) in the series opener.
Bradish has been on an extended roll. Since the beginning of August, he is 5-0 with a 2.38 ERA in seven starts, all Baltimore wins. He logged 50 strikeouts and 12 walks in 41 2/3 innings during that time. Bradish allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his past six starts.
He is 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA in two starts this season vs. Tampa Bay, 1-2 with a 6.53 ERA in four lifetime starts against the Rays.
Civale, acquired from the Cleveland Guardians on July 31, has been impressive as well. Since July 2, he is 5-1 with a 2.84 ERA over 13 starts. His team went 9-4 in those games.
Last time out, however, Civale was touched for four runs in five innings during a no-decision against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday.
Civale is 2-0 with a 7.36 ERA in two career starts against the Orioles, both outings occurring in 2021.
--Field Level Media