7:05 PM EST, MASN – Money Line: Texas -115, Run Line: 8.5
After both teams enjoyed a well-deserved day off, the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles meet for a three-game series at Camden Yards in a clash of division leaders. Hot off the heels of the Trade Deadline, the Rangers (62-44, 1st in AL West) were quite busy during the transaction period, acquiring the likes of All-Star Catcher Jonthan Lucroy and Rightfielder Carlos Beltran this past Monday Evening. Both players should augment Jeff Banister’s Batting Order significantly, while the presence of Lucroy is expected to have a positive effect on the Pitching Staff as a whole. Winners of four in a row, Texas looks to extend their seven-game lead in the American League West after disposing of Kansas City Royals 5-3 this past Sunday. On a sweltering hot day at Globe Life Park, the home side rode the wave of a pair of home runs from Nomar Mazara (thirteenth) and Mitch Moreland (eighteenth) to capture a sweep of the reigning World Series Champions. On the bump, Lucas Harrell (3-2, 3.57 ERA) made his debut for the Rangers in solid fashion, permitting three earned runs on four hits over the course of six innings of work, while totaling a pair of strikeouts opposed to three walks. From that point the hosts’ Bullpen shut the Royals’ bats down, as Relievers Tony Barnette, Keone Kela, Jake Diekman, and Sam Dyson handled the final three innings surrendering nary a walk or run. Harrell, who was acquired last Wednesday in a deal with the Atlanta Braves became the eighth different Ranger to make a start in the month of July, as the club continue to tinker with their Rotation. And speaking of the Rotation, a return to form from a familiar face could keep this train rolling smoothly. Taking the mound tonight for Banister is Yu Darvish (2-2, 3.09 ERA), who finally looks to have returned to form after after a stint on the 15-Day Disabled List following shoulder discomfort. It’s understandable that the rangers would prefer to remain cautious with the Righthander, who completed the long rehab from Tommy John Surgery back in May. The 29-year old, will be seeking his first victory since June 3rd, having lost two of his last four starts. However, despite Texas’s 6-4 loss in his most recent start against Oakland, Darvish looked to be rounding back into shape. Over six innings of labor, the Japanese Interational allowed a pair of runs on just four hits, with no walks, while striking out six Athletics in the process. It was the second consecutive start in which he had progressed through six innings, while accumulating an impressive seventeen strikeouts to only one walk. After the First Inning, Darvish only permitted two players to reach base, and left the contest with a 1-0 lead, before the Bullpen collapsed yielding four runs in the Eighth Inning alone. Banister and Co. are going to need this guy to regain his form if they hope to fend off the surging Astros in the AL West, and the returns appear that the fifth-year veteran will be up to task; in comparison to the rest of the rotation, Darvish has been filthy, leading his comrades in strikeouts per nine innings (12.7) and strikeout/walk ratio (4.09) by quite a wide margin. Tonight’s meeting at Camden Yards will mark the first appearance against the Orioles of his career.
Meanwhile, the Orioles (59-45, 1st in AL East) too sit in first place in their respective division, but unlike their counterpart tonight, their grip can be described as tenuous at best. Heading into Tuesday’s action, Buck Showalter’s charges remain just a half-game ahead of the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East, with the Boston Red Sox trailing by a mere two games to boot. Many thought that Baltimore would take the opportunity to make some moves at the Deadline to create some much-needed distance between themselves and their competition, but as has been the case under the current regime, no blockbusters were to be had. Instead, the return of a familiar face, Steve Pearce via trade with Tampa Bay brings added depth to the lineup. The versatile 33-year old, who can play First Base, Second Base, and anywhere in the Outfield, plied his trade with the O’s on two separate occasions, including each of the last three years before landing with the Rays this past Offseason as a Free Agent. Perhaps that will serve as a harbinger of things to come, as Baltimore snapped a five-game losing streak this past Sunday with a 6-2 victory at Toronto. However, don’t be fooled by that score, for the visiting side needed all of twelve innings to snatch the win and catapult themselves back into First Place after briefly falling behind the Blue Jays in the standings. With the score deadlocked at 2-2 in the twelfth, Jonathan Schoop drove home Pedro Alvarez on the strength of a single to Centerfield for the go-ahead run, followed by Adam Jones’ (twentieth) dramatic three-run homer that put the game well out of reach. Starter Chris Tillman (14-3, 3.46 ERA) continued his stellar run, allowing two earned runs on five hits through 5.2 innings, including six strikeouts compared to three walks, while the Bullpen again flexed their collective muscle, holding the hosts scoreless over the 6.1 innings of play. The Orioles too are bolstering their Rotation, as the transition of Dylan Bundy (3-3, 3.46 ERA) from the Bullpen is looking to be right on schedule. The young 23-year old rookie made just his third start of the campaign last Wednesday against Colorado, and for the majority of the contest looked every bit the player that Baltimore drafted Fourth Overall back in 2011. The Righthander yielded three runs on just hits over 5.2 innings of work, striking out eight Rockies in the 3-1 loss. However, a deeper look into the numbers will reveal that he was damn near flawless for long stretches, holding a perfect game into the Sixth Inning before things went of the rails; with one out in the Sixth, Bundy walked one batter and was tagged for a pair of home runs before Showalter yanked him from action. If anything, that performance served to justify the youngster’s inclusion in the Rotation, particularly given the Orioles’ preference to stand largely pat at the Trade Deadline. However, as promising as Bundy is, he does have an injury history, which Showalter and his Staff will certainly have to manage delicately. Last Wednesday’s outing consisted of eighty-nine pitches, a season-high which followed eighty-seven five days before, which is evidence of the team dead set on bringing him along slowly. But that’s not the only statistic that is climbing dramatically; Bundy averaged a meager 4.3 strikeouts per nine innings at the end of May, but since the beginning of June has seen that figure skyrocket to an stellar 11.3. All in all, it’s a very encouraging sign and addition to a Rotation that was in need of some help as the postseason looms once more.