Rays, Orioles battle to avoid division cellar
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- On consecutive nights this week, the Tampa Bay Rays were finally eliminated from playoff contention, then assured of a losing record with their 82nd loss of the year.
However, as they close out the season at home with three games against Baltimore at Tropicana Field, they have the season series with the Orioles on the line, plus a chance to avoid finishing in last place.
Tampa Bay (77-82) is two games up on Baltimore (75-84) and the Toronto Blue Jays (75-84), and a single win would clinch avoiding the American League East cellar. The Rays and Orioles are 8-8 head-to-head this season, each enduring a disappointing season of varying degrees.
"Obviously, we're not winning," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Wednesday after his club lost for the fourth time in five games. "That's been a challenge for us -- we're getting some looks at guys, but we'd like to win games."
The Rays lost three straight to fall a season-high six games below .500 before salvaging a 9-6 road win over the New York Yankees on Thursday, getting seven runs in the fifth inning while using a younger lineup as well.
"Just the experience -- they're gaining experience, and we have to find a way to win here (in New York)," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "For us to be the team we want, we have to win ballgames here. In the division, the Yankees are always going to be a pretty good club, and tonight, a bunch of young players impacted that."
Baltimore will open the weekend series with left-hander Wade Miley (8-14, 5.52 ERA) on the mound. He is 0-2 against the Rays this season with a 4.85 ERA, most recently giving up five runs in six innings in a July 25 loss. For his career, he is a middling 4-4 with a solid 3.03 ERA against the Rays.
Baltimore and Tampa Bay split a four-game series at Camden Yards last weekend, and one of the Rays wins came from right-hander Jake Odorizzi (10-8, 4.26 ERA), who makes his final start of 2017 on Friday night.
Odorizzi is 2-0 against Baltimore this season with a 3.86 ERA, throwing six innings Saturday and holding the Orioles to three hits and a single unearned run. For his career, he is 5-4 against Baltimore with a 4.92 ERA in 16 starts.
Neither team will finish at .500 nor ultimately challenge the first-place Boston Red Sox nor New York. That is probably more of a disappointment in Baltimore, which went 89-73 a year ago and had higher expectations -- a combination that could have Showalter in trouble.
The Rays, who were in position to earn a wild card as late in the year as July, couldn't sustain that success and find themselves out of contention once again.
The two teams have a chance this weekend to finish the year on a positive note, and for individual players, it is a chance to make a case for where they belong at the start of next season as well.
Updated September 29, 2017