ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Baltimore Orioles find themselves in a precarious position as they come to the Rays for a three-game series, three games back of the division lead and tied with Detroit for the American League's second wild card, so if it wasn't obvious, every win counts from here out.
“Win games. It's real simple,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said after a 5-2 loss to the Yankees on Sunday. “We have to win games regardless of how we get there. I don't care how it looks or how it happens. We need to have more runs than them after nine innings, or 10 or 11 or 12 and so on. It's a pretty simple equation right now.”
Baltimore (74-62) faces the Rays (58-77) seven times in their next 13 games, so Tampa Bay can again play a major spoiler role, as they did this weekend in taking two of three games from division-leading Toronto.
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“Tough one today. Came up a little short obviously,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash after a 5-3 loss to Toronto, missing out on a potential sweep. “There were probably a couple more opportunities we didn't get.”
Monday's opener — a Labor Day 1:10 p.m. first pitch — pits Baltimore RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (5-11, 6.46 ERA) against Rays RHP Matt Andriese (6-6, 4.19 ERA).
Andriese opened the year 6-0 but has struggled since rejoining the rotation after the trade deadline — the Rays are committed to keeping him in what is now a six-man rotation, but he's 0-6 with a 5.47 ERA in his last 14 appearances, including seven starts.
In his last start, he reset career highs for runs (7) and hits (10) allowed, including seven extra-base hits in a loss to Boston. For his career against the Orioles, he's 0-2 with a 7.04 ERA.
What's worse, Jimenez has a strong history against the Rays, with a 2.87 ERA and 4-2 career record, striking out 36 batters in 37.2 innings. In his only outing against Tampa Bay this year, he took a tough-luck loss in a 3-1 loss in April.
The Rays are relegated to spoiler status in a division they long since stopped being competitive in. Baltimore is in a different mode, struggling to stay close enough to take advantage of remaining head-to-head series against the Blue Jays and Red Sox.
“Whether we're playing here or in Tampa or in Detroit or in Boston, we're always playing people,” Showalter said of the target on his team's back. “There's never a time they're not engaged. Tampa is in a spot, you can see how they're playing right now. Detroit's right there and of course Boston's there. That's why you do all the things that we do to be a part of this. Enjoy the competition and enjoy the fruits of the players' labor to get this chance.”