ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays took care of business on Thursday afternoon, cruising to a 7-2 win over the Orioles to finish a four-game sweep at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay outscored Baltimore by 26 (34-8) during the series and extended the Orioles’ losing streak to a season-high 15 games. Meanwhile, the Rays improved to a season-best 28 games over .500, with the American League’s best record at 75-47, as they beat the rebuilding Orioles for the 15th time in 16 matchups this year.
There’s a bigger challenge on deck. On Friday the Rays will begin a three-game series against the AL Central-leading White Sox (71-51) at The Trop. Tampa Bay lost two of three in June at Guaranteed Rate Field, and Chicago is coming to town with the AL’s third-best record overall.
There are still 40 games left to play, which is plenty of time for something to change in the always competitive AL East, but this weekend could be a potential postseason preview. The Rays are ready for it.
“To be able to go up against a team like the White Sox and play the way that we can play, bring this series into that series, this is going to be kind of what we're looking at, postseason baseball-wise, I feel like,” said second baseman Brandon Lowe, who hit his 29th homer on Thursday. “You know that the White Sox are going to make it. We feel like we're going to make it. ... I think the games are going to be a little bit tougher, it's going to be a little bit of a lower-scoring ballgame, but it's going to be a hard-fought battle for the whole series.”
The Rays’ fourth straight win, meanwhile, was never in question. Nor was the series, considering Tampa Bay was either tied or leading at the end of each of the final 33 innings. It was the Rays’ first four-game sweep at home since Sept. 5-8, 2019, against Toronto, and their franchise-record third four-game sweep of the season.
The lineup, averaging 5.26 runs per game this season, is firing on all cylinders. Lowe has a 1.053 OPS since June 11, second in the AL behind only Shohei Ohtani. Wander Franco has reached base in 21 straight games, the longest active streak in the Majors. Randy Arozarena extended his hitting streak to 11 games on Thursday, and he’s hitting .375 with a 1.111 OPS since the All-Star break.
“The vibe in the clubhouse is good. Everybody's happy. We're feeling good,” Lowe said. “It's very nice to get this series kind of going the way that it went, especially with Chicago coming in. Everyone's coming in feeling good, and we're going to need that for this upcoming series.”
The Rays are going to need good pitching, too, to keep the White Sox potent lineup in check and combat their talented pitching staff. They checked that box on Thursday, when left-hander Shane McClanahan gave up one run on five hits and one walk and struck out eight over five innings. He overpowered the Orioles from the start, striking out the side in the first inning and ending each at-bat with a wicked curveball. He used all four pitches in his arsenal, but his curve was the finisher for six of his eight strikeouts on the day.
In his first full season, McClanahan has emerged as the Rays’ most reliable starter over the past few months. Thursday was the rookie’s 12th straight start allowing three runs or fewer. That’s the longest such streak by a traditional Rays starter since Blake Snell’s 14-game run from June 30, 2019 to Aug. 30, 2020.
Considering his workload this season, and looking to capitalize on the extra rest he’ll receive before taking the mound next weekend in Baltimore, the Rays ended McClanahan’s start after five innings. Now he’s excited to watch his team go to work this weekend.
“The boys are rolling. We're excited for Chicago to come into town, and these next three games are going to be awesome,” said McClanahan, who completed five innings on 79 pitches. “We love the high-pressure situations, and we thrive under them. So this team's ready.”
Tampa Bay's bullpen is rested and ready for a big series, too, thanks to multi-inning efforts this series from recent callups Dietrich Enns (three scoreless innings on Thursday), Shawn Armstrong (two innings on Wednesday) and Chris Ellis (four innings on Tuesday). Despite a slew of injuries and a constant churn of roster moves, manager Kevin Cash has been able to ease up on the usage of such top high-leverage arms as Collin McHugh (three appearances this month), Andrew Kittredge (four) and JT Chargois (five).
They’ll all be good to go this weekend. After taking care of business this week, so will the rest of the Rays.
“You'd like to feel good about yourself going into a series against Chicago. They've played well all year long,” Cash said. “They've gotten good starting pitching. They added to their bullpen at the Deadline. They've got a very good bullpen, and their offense is very strong, top to bottom. So we look forward to hopefully carrying some momentum into our three-game weekend series.”