As the Major League Baseball season surges past the 100-game mark, the race for the playoffs is becoming more and more heated with each passing day. For tonight, Game 1 of the series between the Tampa Bay Rays (55-50, 28-25 home) and the Baltimore Orioles (55-50, 30-24 away) starts a critical 3-game set between two American League East foes who are deadlocked in a battle for the AL Wild Card spot. With the Rays coming off a strong finish on the road, winning their last two games against the current Wild Card-leading Oakland A’s, and Baltimore looking to recover from a crushing 12-3 loss last night at the hands of the AL East-leading New York Yankees that snapped a 3-game winning streak, there’s little question that both teams will be geared up to make some headway in the Wild Card race with the game starting at 7:10 PM ET from Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.
For the pitching match-up tonight, the advantage has to go in favor of Tampa Bay, who will put out their young lefty Matt Moore (7-7, 4.01 ERA) against Baltimore’s Tommy Hunter (4-6, 5.68 ERA). The rookie Moore has continued to impress down the stretch of the season, posting a 3-0 record with a 3.16 ERA in June, followed by a 3-2 record with a 3.48 ERA in July. Trading wins and losses back and forth in the prior month, Moore will look to break the up and down cycle, coming off a fantastic outing at Los Angeles, in which he threw 6 1/3 innings of shutout baseball in a 3-0 win. Moore has pitched solidly against Baltimore in his two starts against them this season, posting a 1.74 record while going 1-1 with just 2 runs allowed in 10.1 innings of work. Key to Tampa’s success tonight though will be Moore’s ability to keep under control, and go longer in the game. Moore has struggled a bit with walks against Baltimore, issuing 7 of them in his 10.1 innings of work, but has been calmer at home where he holds a 5-4 record with a 3.61 ERA in 12 starts.
Tommy Hunter on the other hand has had a much rockier road for the Baltimore Orioles this season, having lost 3 out of his last 4 decisions, and has given up 5 or more runs in his last 10 appearances. He’s had troubles on the road especially this season, posting a 6.27 ERA with a 1-4 record away from home, and his 1.48 WHIP is something he’ll need to improve upon tonight if he expects to give his offense a chance at staying in contention with the surging Rays. One good thing for Hunter is the fact that he hasn’t faced Tampa Bay this season, and over the last 3 years, holds a 2-1 record with a 3.63 ERA with a complete game in 4 starts. The bad part of that: In his two starts at the Trop, he’s been shelled for 7 runs in 8 innings of work, going 0-1 in two starts with a 7.88 ERA. The Rays are hitting .371 against him at home, and there’s no question that if Hunter starts allowing a bunch of base runners early, the outstanding pitching of Tampa Bay will be happy to shut down the O’s offense with a bit of a cushion behind them. Tampa has the best rotation in the Majors post-All Star break (2.45 ERA, .200 opponent batting average), so you can rest assured that a 2 or 3 run cushion early on will spell trouble for Baltimore in Game 1 of this series.
Interestingly enough though, on the hitting side of the equation the Baltimore Orioles have had success against Matt Moore, combining for a .293 average against him. However, there’s a small sample size of just 41 at-bats to go from, meaning that only a few batters for the O’s have seen Moore for more than 1 game’s worth of at-bats. Matt Wieters will certainly be the key hitter to watch for, having gone 3-for-4 against Moore with 2 home runs and 3 RBI against him. In 6 total at bats he’s been on base 5 times, and after 4 consecutive games with a hit and without an RBI, he’s due for some production in this series. Another Orioles to keep watch of is Nick Markakis, who had a solid series against New York going 7-for-14. He’s hitting .364 this year against Tampa pitching, and .393 over his last 7 days. As always for the O’s watch out for Adam Jones, who is 2-for-6 against Moore with 2 RBIs, and has hits in 9 out of his last 10 games. With 24 homers and 57 RBIs on the season, but no production in the last 3 games against New York, now would be a perfect time for Jones to step up and put one over the fences at the Trop to help Baltimore nab an important Game 1 against Tampa Bay.
On the Rays side of the plate tonight, interestingly enough the currently roster has had relatively little success against Tommy Hunter in terms of batting average (.245), but have taken him deep 4 times in 53 combined at-bats with 9 RBIs. That isn’t so shocking considering that the Rays in general haven’t been a great hitting team this season, especially with Evan Longoria still out of the line-up. In fact, it’s somewhat surprising the Rays are in the playoff picture this year, ranking in the bottom third of every offensive category, highlighted by their 29th position in batting average (.231). As such, and with few players having success against Hunter, the Rays will look to Carlos Pena, who comes off a 2-for-4 outing with a 2-run homer against Oakland, as well as Matt Joyce, who has hits in 4 straight games. BJ Upton could continue a trend of hits every other game, alternating for the past 6 starts. By his trend, he’s due to generate some production tonight, having gone 0-for-3 in the final game of the series against Oakland. There’s not much power in this Rays lineup right now, but a couple of clutch hits, and some walks from Hunter, and Tampa Bay will be on their way to a third straight victory.
Betting Lines for Tampa Bay Rays vs. Baltimore Orioles at Bovada Sportsbook.
The Rays hold it down as favorites tonight at home, getting -172 odds to win straight up behind the rookie Matt Moore. Baltimore, with a solid record away from home, would be a good wager at +157 odds on the money line, provided the inconsistent form of Tommy Hunter. Though he’s been good against the Rays, having not faced them in 2 years, and having a lousy set of outings at the Trop to go off of, the safe bet is certainly Tampa with the win straight up.
Against the spread, again Tampa Bay looks like the team to side with. Getting +120 odds for the Rays to cover 1½ runs is definitely tempting, especially with them coming off two solid wins over a stingy Oakland team on the road. Baltimore’s -140 odds to stay within 1 ½ runs of Tampa Bay is a stretch, especially with some shaky pitching on the hill tonight.
For the over/under, 8 runs is the line drawn in the sand, with even money going for over pickers and -120 odds going to those backing the under side of the line. 5 out of the last 6 Tampa Bay games have gone under, whereas for Baltimore 4 out of the last 6 games have gone over the total runs line. That will make for a tricky pick here tonight, but with both teams struggling to generate offense at the plate, and Tampa pitching phenomenally well at the moment, the under total runs is our pick for this betting line.