Saturday, September 23, 2023
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MLB Preview: Tampa Bay Rays (91-57) at Baltimore Orioles (91-55)


RAY REPORT — Tampa Bay continues a seven-day, seven-game road trip against a pair of division-leading clubs in Minnesota and Baltimore tonight at Oriole Park, having gone 3-1 thus far…the Rays are 29-14 in their last 43 games, including wins in six of seven, eight of 10, 13 of 18, 17 of 23, 19 of 26 and 22 of their last 31, following an MLB-worst 5-15 (.250) stretch from 7/1-26…the Rays currently occupy the first AL Wild Card spot, leading Texas by 8.0 games and Seattle by 9.0 games…with 14 games remaining, Tampa Bay is 1.0 game behind first-place Baltimore in the AL East. Tampa Bay’s magic number to clinch the ninth postseason berth in club history is four…the Rays are seeking their fifth consecutive postseason appearance. The Rays can regain a share of first place in the AL East for the first time since 7/21 with a victory tonight…they have spent a total of 113 days in first place in division, tied with the 2008 Rays for the most in a single season in club history. Tampa Bay has won back-to-back games by one run for the first time since August (8/11-12)…it has not recorded three straight one-run victories since 9/18-21, 2019. The Rays 19-7 (.731) record since 8/16 leads MLB, outpacing the Braves (19-8, .704), while their 29-14 (.674) since 7/28 paces the AL, ahead of the Orioles (29-15, .659). Tonight’s contest marks the Rays 15th of 17 consecutive games to open September before their first of three off days during the month (9/18, 9/25, 9/28). The Rays remaining opponents have a combined winning pct. of .538, the third-highest mark in the AL behind the Blue Jays (.548) and Red Sox (.545).

BATTLE FOR THE EAST — Per Elias, this marks the third season in club history in which the Rays faced a division rival at least 140 games into the season with both clubs within 2.0 games of the top spot in the division…it also occurred in 2008 (BOS: 9/8-10 & 9/15-17) and 2010 (NYY: 9/13-15, 9/20-23)…with the Orioles holding a 6-4 lead in the season series, the Rays would need to sweep this series in order to gain a head-to-head tiebreaker over Baltimore…Tampa Bay has recorded one sweep in a four-game set this season, going 4-0 against Boston from 4/10-13 at Tropicana Field as part of its modern era-record-tying 13-game winning streak to open the season. The Rays are seeking their fifth AL East division title in club history, including their first since nabbing back-to-back division crowns in 2020-21…their four division titles since 2008 are tied with the Red Sox for the second most among AL East clubs, behind the Yankees (5)…the only AL clubs with more division titles in that span are the Astros (5) and Yankees.

JUST WIN, BABY—The Rays have secured the ninth 90+ win season in club history… excluding 2020, they have recorded at least 90 victories in four of the last five seasons since 2018…Tampa Bay’s nine 90+ win campaigns since becoming the Rays in 2008 are tied with the Yankees for the second most in the majors during that timeframe, trailing only the Dodgers (10)…the Cardinals and Red Sox (8 each) are the next closest teams. The Rays needed 147 games to reach the 90-win mark, the second fewest in club history behind the 2021 club (145G). The Rays are one of six clubs to reach the postseason each season from 2019-22, joining the Astros, Braves, Cardinals, Dodgers and Yankees…they are looking to become the eighth team in the Wild Card era (since 1995) to make the postseason in five consecutive seasons at least once, joining the Braves (2x: 1995-2005; 2018-23), Yankees (2x: 1995-2007; 2017-22), Astros (2017-22), Cardinals (2011-15), Guardians (1995-99) and Phillies (2007-11).

A ‘PEN-CHANT FOR SUCCESS — The Rays bullpen has not allowed an earned run in its last 34.0 innings dating back to the ninth frame on 9/4 vs. Boston, the second-longest such streak in club history…the longest was a 37.2-inning run from 9/22/10-4/1/11…their current streak is the longest by a major league bullpen since Philadelphia’s 36.2-inning streak earlier this season from 5/6-17 (Elias)…Rays relievers are riding a 17.1 scoreless inning streak on the heels of a 19.0 scoreless inning streak from 8/25-9/2…the Rays relief corps has produced an MLB-leading 0.88 ERA (61.1IP, 6ER) over the club’s last 18 games since 8/26, ahead of the Dodgers (2.51). The Rays 64-7 (.901) record when leading after six innings is seventh best in the majors, while their 68-3 (.958) mark when leading after seven is second best behind the Red Sox (62-2, .969). Robert Stephenson has a 12.0 scoreless inning streak, striking out 22 of the 39 batters he has faced (56.4%) while holding opponents to a 2-for-38 (.053) clip and registering a 59.3 pct. whiff rate…24.4 pct. of Stephenson’s pitches this season have resulted in swinging strikes, which would signal the third-highest mark by a qualified reliever since the statistic was first tracked in 2002 (Sports Info Solutions), trailing HOU Brad Lidge in 2004 (25.1%) and NYM Edwin Díaz in 2022 (24.7%). Jake Diekman has strung together an 11.0 scoreless inning streak…Shawn Armstrong has not permitted an earned run in his last 13 outings spanning 17.1 innings, posting a 0.63 WHIP over that stretch.

CLOSE CALLS — Each of Tampa Bay’s last 10 games have been decided by three or fewer runs, its longest streak since 6/14-30, 2022 (15G)…the Rays are 8-2 over that span, including 2-2 in one-run games…on the season, their 31-34 (.469) mark in games decided by two or fewer runs is sixth worst in the AL/11th worst in the majors, while their 60-23 (.723) record in games decided by 3+ runs leads MLB, ahead of the Braves (58-24, .707).

PITCHING PROWESS — The Rays have allowed four or fewer earned runs in 10 consecutive games, their longest streak since another 10-game run from 8/28-9/9, 2022…Tampa Bay’s pitching staff has posted a 2.97 ERA (91.0IP, 30ER) in that timeframe… another such performance tonight would give the Rays their longest streak since a club-record 19-game run from 9/16/21-4/10/22.

THUNDER AND LIGHTNING — The Rays pace the AL in both homers (211) and stolen bases (154)…they are attempting to become the fifth team to lead the AL in both categories, joining New York-AL in 1931, 1933 and 1938 and Cleveland in 1995 (Elias)…the 211 homers are tied with the 2017 club for the most through 148 games in club history, while the 154 steals are third most behind the 2009 (179SB) and 2010 Rays (161SB)…they are 17 homers shy of matching the 2017 Rays (228HR) for the club single-season record.

BIRDLAND SHOWDOWN — The Rays and Orioles conclude a 13-game season series with a four-game set in Baltimore…since winning 27 of 29 meetings with the Orioles from 8/25/20-4/10/22, including a club-record 15-game winning streak from 7/10/21- 4/10/22, the Rays are 11-15 (.423) over the last 26 matchups (5-9 on the road) — it marks their third-lowest winning percentage against any AL opponent during that timeframe (since 5/10/22), ahead of Houston (4-8, .333) and Cleveland (5-7, .417). Tampa Bay has won the season series in each of the previous six seasons, going 72-43 (.626) against Baltimore since the beginning of 2017…the Rays would need to win each of the next three games to avoid their first season series loss to the Orioles since 2016 (13-6).

TONIGHT’S START — The right-hander makes his 29th start of the season, including his 12th on the road…ranks second in the majors in walk rate (3.6%) behind SEA George Kirby (2.4%)…his 1.05 WHIP is tied with Kirby for the third-lowest mark in the majors behind NYY Gerrit Cole (1.03) and SEA Luis Castillo (1.04)…has gone 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA (28.1IP, 9ER) in his last five starts after posting a 2-3 mark with a 5.10 ERA (30.0IP, 17ER) in his first six starts following the All-Star break.

LAST TIME OUT — Earned the win on 9/10 vs. Seattle…tossed 5.0 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and two walks with six strikeouts. Has allowed three earned runs or fewer in five straight starts, matching his longest run of the season (also 5GS from 6/17-7/9).

BATTLING THE BIRDS — Eflin is 2-2 with a 3.46 ERA (26.0IP, 10ER) in four career starts opposite Baltimore…is 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA (13.0IP, 4ER) in two starts this season…took the loss at Baltimore on 5/9 after working 6.0 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and one walk with four strikeouts. In seven starts this season against AL East foes, he is 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA (43.0IP, 14ER), striking out 44 batters against seven walks.

WORK HORSE — He ranks among AL starters in pitches/IP (1st, 14.5), pitches/batter faced (1st, 3.65), wins (T1st, 14), BB/9.0 IP (2nd, 1.29), SO/BB (2nd, 7.13), walk rate (3rd, 3.6%), base runners allowed/9.0 IP (3rd, 9.63) and WHIP (T3rd, 1.05).

FLIPPING THE SCRIPT — In Eflin’s last three road starts, he has gone 2-0 with a 0.49 ERA (18.1IP, 1ER)…during that stretch, he has fanned 13 batters against one walk while holding opponents to a .175 (11-for-63) average. In his first eight road starts of the year from 4/28-7/16, he went 1-4 with a 5.36 ERA (43.2IP, 26ER)…among pitchers who threw at least 30.0 innings on the road during that timeframe, his 5.36 ERA was eighth highest in the AL.

CAREER YEAR — Having tossed 160.2 innings so far this season, Eflin is 2.2 innings shy of matching his career high set in 2019 (163.1IP). Eflin is scheduled to make his 29th start of the season, setting a new career high (28GS in 2019). He has recorded 14 wins this season, surpassing his previous high of 10 victories, also set in 2019…he earned career win No. 50 in his last outing on 9/10 vs. Seattle. With a 3.53 ERA, Eflin is on pace to post his lowest ERA across a full season, ahead of his 4.04 ERA in 2022.

QUALITY CONTROL — Eflin’s 7.13 SO/BB ratio ranks second in the majors behind SEA George Kirby (9.44)…in Rays history, the only qualified pitcher with a higher mark over a full season was David Price in 2012 (8.22)…He has walked two or fewer batters in each of his last 31 starts since 6/14/22, the longest active streak in MLB, ahead of Kirby (27GS)…Eflin has issued two or fewer walks in 64 of his last 65 starts dating back to 8/29/2020. Since the beginning of 2021, his 3.9 pct. walk rate is the lowest in the majors (min. 1,250BF), outpacing KC Zack Greinke (4.5%) and LAD Ryan Yarbrough (4.5%). Eflin has thrown 70.5 pct. of his pitches for strikes, the highest mark in the majors, ahead of teammate Shawn Armstrong (70.2%) and SEA George Kirby (69.9%)…marks the highest strike percentage of his career, ahead of his 2021 season (67.99%). His 1.02 WHIP is tied for third lowest in the majors…he is looking to become the first qualified pitcher in Rays history to lead the AL (or all of MLB) in WHIP over a full season…the only Tampa Bay hurlers to post lower qualified WHIPs in a season are Blake Snell (0.97 in 2018) and Shane McClanahan (0.93 in 2022).

LEFT SIDE, BEST SIDE — He is holding left-handed batters to a .214 (63- for-294) average, compared to a .264 (83-for-314) mark against righthanded batters…his .214 opponent average against left-handed hitters is fourth lowest in the AL (min 250BF), behind LAA Shohei Ohtani (.197), CLE Tanner Bibee (.199) and NYY Gerrit Cole (.206).


SOMETHING IN THE ORANGE: The O’s have won eight of their last 12 games…The Birds have won seven of their last eight series, eight of 10 series, and 11 of 14 series…At 91-55 (.623), the Orioles have the best record in the AL and second-best in MLB (see box at right)…The Birds are 43-23 (.652) since the start of July, tied with Seattle for the best record in the AL and for the second-best mark in MLB during that time…The team is 153-104 (.595) since June 2022, the second-best record in the AL and fourth-best in MLB during that time. The O’s hold a 1.0-game lead over the Rays in the AL East. Baltimore’s magic number to clinch a Postseason berth is four.

SWEEPLESS IN BALTIMORE: The Orioles have gone 86 consecutive series of at least two decisions (no ties) without being swept…According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the fourth-longest streak in MLB history, trailing the 1942-44 St. Louis Cardinals (124), 1906-09 Chicago Cubs (115), and 1903-05 New York Giants (105)…Baltimore’s current streak is the longest in O’s history, ahead of 46 consecutive sweepless series from 1971-72…The Birds have not been swept in a series of at least two games since May 13-15, 2022 at Detroit (0-3), and not at home in a series of at least two games since August 27-29, 2021 vs. Tampa Bay (0-3).

START ME UP: Orioles starting pitchers have struck out 736 batters this year, the third-most punchouts by O’s starters in a single season in club history (since 1954), trailing only the 1968 (747) and 2016 (742) rotations.

RYAN O’HOMER: Ryan O’Hearn launched his 13th homer of the season in the second inning last night…He is now two homers shy of surpassing his career high of 14 long balls set in 2019 with Kansas City; hit 12 home runs combined from 2020-2022…Among O’s batters with at least 300 plate appearances, O’Hearn ranks first in OPS (.835), wRC+ (127), slugging (.505), and average (.299), and tied for fifth in on-base percentage (.330)…His 1.5 fWAR and 1.0 bWAR this year would both be career bests.

FEELS GOOD TO BE HOME: The Orioles continue their seven-game homestand against the Cardinals (1-2) and Rays (0-1) tonight with the second of four games against Tampa Bay. The O’s are 43-29 (.597) at Oriole Park, the third-best home record in the AL behind Tampa Bay at 50-25 (.667) and Texas at 45-30 (.600).

BEASTS OF THE EAST: The Orioles and Rays continue a four-game set tonight, the final regular-season meeting between the AL East rivals…The Birds currently hold a 1.0-game lead over the Rays in the division…The O’s are 6-4 against Tampa this year and need one more win to clinch the season series victory and head-to-head tiebreaker…Baltimore took two out of three games against Tampa Bay at Oriole Park from May 8-10, split a two-game series at the Trop from June 20-21, and took three out of four at the Trop from July 20-23…The O’s went 9-10 against Tampa Bay last year, 7-3 at Oriole Park and 2-7 at Tropicana Field…The season series was not decided until the 19th and final game on August 14 in Tampa Bay.

WELCOME TO THE SHOW: Heston Kjerstad (KERR-stad) made his MLB debut as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of last night’s game; struck out swinging against Tampa Bay’s Robert Stephenson…Became the sixth Orioles player to make his MLB debut this season, joining right-handed pitcher Grayson Rodriguez on April 5 at Texas, infielder Joey Ortiz on April 27 at Detroit, infielder Jordan Westburg on June 26 vs. Cincinnati, right-handed pitcher Chris Vallimont on July 3 at New York-AL, and outfielder Colton Cowser on July 5 at New York-AL… Kjerstad is currently ranked as the No. 3 Orioles prospect and No. 24 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline.

QUICK HITS: Scheduled to make his 27th start of the season, 11th at home, and first career start against the Rays tonight…Made his Orioles debut on August 3 against at Toronto; was acquired by the O’s from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for LHP Drew Rom, INF César Prieto, and RHP Zack Showalter on August 1…Had spent his entire professional career with St. Louis after being selected in the first round (No. 34 overall) of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft out of Harvard-Westlake High School (CA)…Since his MLB debut in 2017, Flaherty had more strikeouts (706) than any other Cardinal while throwing the third-most innings (633.0) prior to the trade… Pitched to a 41-31 record with a 3.58 ERA (252 ER/633.0 IP) and 50 quality starts in 122 career appearances (118 starts) with St. Louis…His 706 strikeouts in his first 122 career appearances are the most by a Cardinals pitcher in that span in franchise history (since 1882)…Allowed six hits-or-fewer in 30 straight starts from September 20, 2020 to April 28, 2023, the longest such streak in team history.

LAST TIME OUT: Did not factor in the decision in his last start on September 9 at Boston, his first career start against the Red Sox…Allowed five runs (4 ER) on eight hits (1 HR) with one walk and three strikeouts in 3.1 innings…Left with one runner on, who later scored…Has failed to complete 5.0 innings in three of his six starts with the O’s…Threw 82 pitches, 52 strikes.

EAST COAST LIFESTYLE: Making his first career start against Tampa Bay and fifth against the AL East…Sports a 3-0 record with a 2.21 ERA (5 ER/20.1 IP) and two quality starts in four career outings against the AL East.

PACKING A PUNCH: Flaherty has tallied 138 strikeouts this season, his most since setting a career high with 231 in 2019 with St. Louis…Is 12 punchouts shy of 750 for his career…Fanned 16 batters in his first two starts with the Orioles, the most by a pitcher in that span in team history (since 1954).

JACK OF ALL TRADES: Flaherty (.221, 27.0%) is one of 13 MLB pitchers to own an opponent batting average of .225 or lower and a strikeout percentage of 25 percent-or-better since 2018 (min. 2500 batters faced)…His 27 scoreless outings in that span are 12h-most among MLB starting pitchers, while his 85 games with five hits-or-fewer are tied for 12th-most.

SHIFTING SPEEDS: Opposing batters are slashing .202/.276/.375 (21-for-104) with 12 extra-base hits (9-2B, 3 HR) and 39 strikeouts against Flaherty’s knuckle curveball this season…In 2022, Flaherty held hitters to a .150/.190/.200 (3-for20) slash line against the off-speed pitch…Its whiff rate has increased from 35.9
percent in 2022 to 41.1 percent this season.

HOMER (UN)HAPPY: Flaherty did not allow a home run in nine straight starts from May 15 to July 6, the longest such streak by a Cardinals starter and tied for the third-longest streak by an MLB starting pitcher this season…Has allowed 16 home runs in 137.1 innings this year, including at least one in five straight starts and in eight of his last nine outings since July 16 with St. Louis…Opponents have homered 10 times during that period after he yielded just six in his first 17 games to begin the season.

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