|Rays look to jumpstart second half against O's|
The Tampa Bay Rays stumbled in the days leading into the All-Star break while the rebuilding Baltimore Orioles fared a bit better.
They meet in the series opener Friday night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with a chance to set a positive course for the second half.
The Rays, who had yet to announce a starter for the opener of the four-game series as of Thursday, won their last two games before the break while the Yankees lost two during a four-game series. That let Tampa Bay pull within 6 1/2 games of New York while sitting in second place in the American League East.
All-Star pitcher Charlie Morton (10-2 plus an AL-best 2.32 ERA) earned the win in Sunday's game, and Tampa Bay sits in the top spot for the first Wild Card.
Also hanging over the Rays' heads is what they'll do at the trade deadline. Tampa Bay has gone 17-19 in its last 36 games thanks to injuries and bullpen issues, so the next three weeks likely will determine the team's actions around July 31.
"If you look at where we were two weeks ago and where we are today, you appreciate how quickly the standings can change," Tampa Bay general manager Erik Neander said to MLB.com recently. "I think we're likely to be (more) aggressive the more the division is in play."
The Rays also have dealt with injury issues in the bullpen. Jose Alvarado (right oblique strain) is on the injured list and could be out for a few weeks, according to MLB.com, which also said that pitcher Diego Castillo could return from the injured list when the Baltimore series begins.
Manager Kevin Cash told MLB.com that Emilio Pagan, who earned the save in the final game before the break, could be handling similar situations when the second half begins.
Tampa Bay hadn't announced a starter Thursday afternoon, but the Orioles will use Dylan Bundy (4-10, 4.65) for Friday's game. Bundy's coming off a solid start in the July 5 win over Toronto when he gave up one run on three hits in 6 2/3 innings.
If Bundy, who is 4-5 with a 5.49 ERA in his career versus the Rays, can stay consistent, the Orioles would have three solid starting pitchers -- along with All-Star John Means and Andrew Cashner. But Bundy hasn't found that consistency yet in every start.
The Orioles splitting a six-game road trip, which included taking two of three in Toronto, before the All-Star break. Baltimore was hitting better and getting stronger starting and relief pitching.
"Our starting pitching the last eight days has been pretty good," Orioles manager Brandon Hyde told MLB.com after the Toronto series. "We love to see that. You can't win in this league unless you pitch. I'd love to see our pitching numbers improve, love to see our bullpen guys come in and get outs and improve on their numbers."
In the bullpen, Hyde is still looking for a closer. Mychal Givens had been up and down in that role, and Hyde has tried others, and it will be interesting to see if the Orioles bring up some of their minor-leaguers who are pitching well so far.
But the Orioles also could make some moves at the trade deadline.
Cashner could be an attractive arm and suitors could try to make a run at pitchers like Bundy and Givens.
--Field Level Media