After the Rays won in dramatic fashion to even the series last night, the teams conclude their entertaining set Thursday at Tropicana Field. Baltimore overcame a one-run deficit with five runs in the seventh inning of Tuesday's 7-4 season-opening victory over Tampa Bay. The Orioles blew a 4-0 lead Wednesday then tied it in the ninth before Matt Joyce homered in the bottom of the frame to give the Rays an 8-7 win.
Both clubs hope to sustain the same kind of fight that helped generate success in 2012, as for this season the discussion for contention in the AL East revolves around both of these clubs as well as Toronto who made some huge off-season acquisitions. Baltimore snapped a string of 14 straight losing seasons by winning 93 games and earning an AL wild-card spot while Tampa Bay won at least 90 games for a third consecutive season despite falling short of its third straight postseason appearance.
Roberto Hernandez, formerly known as Fausto Carmona will take the helm this afternoon for the Rays. He signed a one-year deal with Tampa Bay and beat out Jeff Niemann for the final spot in the rotation despite going 0-2 with a 5.33 ERA in seven spring training appearances. Hernandez, who won 19 games for Cleveland in 2007, went 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA for the Indians last season when he was suspended three weeks by the club for age and identity fraud. The right-hander hopes a fresh start with Tampa Bay will help revive his career.
Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis is 3 for 11 with a double against Hernandez, but he has seven RBIs in this series to become the first Oriole in franchise history to drive in at least three runs in the first two games of a season. Davis went 4 for 4 with four RBIs Wednesday and homered for the second straight game. He's homered in eight of his last nine regular season games overall and four of five at Tropicana Field.
Baltimore counters with Miguel Gonzalez, who was originally signed with Anaheim as a free agent in 2005. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009 and spent two seasons in the Red Sox minor league system with Pawtucket. He then revived his career playing in the Mexican Pacific League and last season won his first start against the team that drafted him, eventually going 9-4 with a 3.25 ERA. Gonzalez gives Baltimore a chance to take their first series of the season, but the task won't be easy facing heavy hitters including Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and a rejuvenated Evan Longoria.
We get a good price as well as ideal conditions under the dome, and with both pitchers still out to prove their consistency, the offense should continue at a nice pace this afternoon. Look for another close finish between these two AL East contenders with the outcome decided by the middle relief if both offenses can pick up from where they left off last evening. Best of luck however you play!