The Tampa Bay Rays are vastly improved in just about every area this season. Their play at home may be the biggest difference.
The Rays open a season-high 10-game homestand Friday night when they face another surprising team, the AL East rival Baltimore Orioles.
The Rays (27-20) appear to be well on their way to surpassing the franchise record of 70 wins they had in 2004, especially if they continue to play well at home, where they’re 16-8. Only Boston (21) has more home wins in the AL.
The Rays won only 11 of their first 24 games at Tropicana Field last season en route to a 37-44 home mark.
Tampa Bay lost seven of its first 11 home games this season, but has since won 12 of 13. The only blemish in that span was a 2-1 loss to the New York Yankees on May 14.
Outstanding pitching has been the catalyst for the Rays’ home success. They have a 2.78 ERA at home, compared to 4.93 on the road.
During the current 12-1 stretch at Tropicana Field, Tampa Bay’s starting pitchers have compiled a 1.95 ERA.
Friday’s scheduled starter Matt Garza (2-1, 4.86 ERA) has contributed to that run, tossing seven scoreless innings in a 7-1 victory over the Yankees on May 12.
The right-hander, however, wasn’t nearly as sharp his next time out. He was roughed up for seven runs and 10 hits in 4 1-3 innings at St. Louis on Saturday in the Rays’ 9-8, 10-inning loss.
Garza struggled in his first start this season against the Orioles, giving up five runs in 5 1-3 innings of Tampa Bay’s 9-6 loss April 2, but worked six strong innings in a 4-2 victory at Camden Yards on May 1. He’s 4-0 with a 3.54 ERA in five career starts versus Baltimore.
Tampa Bay failed in a bid to complete a three-game sweep of Oakland on Wednesday, losing 9-1. They opened the six-game trip by losing two of three to the Cardinals.
“You’d like to go home 4-2, but I’ll take 3-3 going home,” Rays manager Joe Maddon told the team’s official Web site. “We’ve been playing well at home and this is another opportunity to do so.”
Rays first baseman Carlos Pena is only batting .250 (8-for-32) this season against the Orioles, but has four home runs and 12 RBIs in the eight meetings.
The Orioles (24-22) have defied many prognosticators who picked them to be baseball’s worst team in 2008. Baltimore had won eight of 10 before losing two straight to the Yankees, falling 2-1 on Thursday at Yankee Stadium.
After scoring 12 runs in the series opener, the Orioles managed one run while batting .177 (11-for-62) in the final two games.
Jeremy Guthrie (2-4, 3.86) hopes to receive better run support when he takes the mound for Baltimore on Friday. The right-hander has only two wins in 10 starts despite allowing three earned runs or fewer in eight of those outings. The Orioles are averaging 3.2 runs when Guthrie pitches.
He suffered another tough-luck loss Sunday, yielding one run and five hits in seven innings of a 2-1 defeat to Washington.
Guthrie pitched poorly in his first start this season against the Rays before limiting them to two runs over 6 1-3 innings in a 10-5 victory at Tampa on April 11. He didn’t get the decision.
Tampa Bay is 5-3 this season against Baltimore, winning two of three at home.