As bad as Baltimore was from 2005-07, it always managed to stay out of last place in the AL East by beating out Tampa Bay. Now the Orioles are trying to stay ahead of the Rays atop the division, if only for April.
After snapping the Rays’ six-game winning streak, the Orioles look to head into May with at least a share of first place in the AL East as the teams play the middle game of their series Wednesday night.
The opener of this series was a surprising duel for first place, and Baltimore (15-11) won 7-4 on Tuesday night to snap Tampa Bay’s longest winning streak in nearly three years. The Rays (14-12) had won six straight for the first time since July 28-Aug. 3, 2005.
“All the hard work that we put in to get to this point, we took a giant step backward,” Rays starting pitcher Jason Hammel said.
Baltimore and Boston are now tied for first place in the AL East. The Orioles and Rays finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the division each of the past three seasons, but both teams have gotten off to strong starts.
Baltimore and Tampa Bay were regarded as rebuilding teams entering this season, and neither club is expected to be able to hold off the high-payroll Red Sox or New York Yankees, but the Orioles have a chance to at least keep pace with the Boston atop the AL East as they close out April.
Brian Burres (3-1, 2.49 ERA) has played a big role in Baltimore’s hot start, and he is set to take his turn in the rotation. The left-hander has not allowed a run in two straight starts spanning 13 2-3 innings, earning a win in both contests.
He is coming off the longest outing of his career, giving up three hits and striking out four in eight innings as Baltimore beat the Chicago White Sox 5-1 on Saturday night.
But against the Rays on April 13, Burres was reached for six runs, five hits and four walks in 4 2-3 innings as the Orioles won 6-2. Burres is 0-2 with an 11.42 ERA in two starts and eight relief appearances against Tampa Bay.
The Rays will counter with Andy Sonnanstine (3-1, 5.28 ERA), who has posted a 1.76 ERA in winning his last two starts. The right-hander gave up three runs and six hits in 6 1-3 innings as Tampa Bay beat Toronto 5-3 on Thursday night.
The right-hander has not allowed a home run in his last two starts after yielding five round-trippers in his first three outings. Sonnanstine has given up only one home run in three career starts versus the Orioles, but he is 1-2 with an 8.04 ERA against them.
Improved pitching and defense, along with timely hitting, have helped Tampa Bay record its first winning April in franchise history. In the opener of this series, though, the Rays went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11.
Tampa Bay was also held to a combined five runs in the final two games of its six-game winning streak.
“It was a nice little six-game run, and let’s start another one,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.