Jul 19, 2021, 5:15:32 AMyebscore

Rays host Orioles with eyes on first place

The Tampa Bay Rays are looking to rack up a few wins in their return home this week when they face the American League East rival Baltimore Orioles. Still chasing the division-leading Boston Red Sox, the second-place Rays will host a three-game series against Baltimore beginning in Monday night's meeting in St. Petersburg, Fla. The clubs will also meet Tuesday evening and Wednesday afternoon before the Rays leave for four games in Cleveland against the Indians starting Thursday - seven games in seven days. Baltimore will end the week by hosting a three-game series against the Washington Nationals, its Beltway rivals. Judging by the Rays' success against the incoming visitors, squaring off against the struggling Orioles fits right into Tampa Bay's plan to catch and surpass the Red Sox. Manager Kevin Cash's club and the last-place Orioles have met six times so far, with three contests at each venue. The Rays have been victorious in all six, outscoring their opposition 48-21 and holding the Orioles to two runs or fewer three times. A run-differential so vast would suggest Cash's group has a good chance of playing with a lead in the series, but there's no panic if Tampa Bay falls behind. The Rays rallied for two wins in Atlanta over the weekend, including Sunday's 7-5 win over the Braves in which the visitors erased 3-0 and 4-3 deficits to secure the series win. The comeback victories gave the Rays 28 this season - second only to league-leading Boston. "We're a good club," Cash said. "Sometimes it doesn't show up in the first two or three innings, but these guys do a good job of showing up when those big moments arise and come from behind." Left-hander Ryan Yarbrough (6-3, 4.30 ERA), who will pitch in his 19th game and make his 14th start, is 4-1 with a 3.35 ERA in 10 appearances - five starts - against the Orioles in his career, with the opposition hitting .254 against him. Despite the misery surrounding the Orioles this season - being 31 games under .500 will darken even the liveliest of clubhouses - they will go to Florida from Kansas City carrying a two-game winning streak. Also, Sunday's win over the Royals behind six strong shutout innings from starter Matt Harvey (4-10) helped Baltimore clinch just their third series since June 2. The shutout was just the third blanking by the Orioles' staff - the most recent being John Means' no-hitter on May 5. Baltimore will hope for more good moundwork when it sends out rookie Spenser Watkins (1-0, 1.74), who will be facing the Rays for the first time in his career. Watkins, 28, has been impressive in his brief stint in manager Brandon Hyde's rotation after making his major-league debut on July 2 in his lone relief appearance. The right-hander earned his first career victory with five innings of three-hit, one-run ball against Toronto on July 6. Five days later, he started against the Chicago White Sox and tossed 4 1/3 innings and yielded just one run. "I thought he threw with no fear," Hyde said of Watkins' win over the Blue Jays. "We haven't gone five innings very often, so to see a starter go five innings was fantastic. I was pleased with how he competed and the stuff that he showed." --Field Level Media