As they play their last game before the All-Star break Sunday in St. Petersburg, Fla., the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays have some things in common.
First, they both have records above .500 — 46-45 for Baltimore and 50-41 for Tampa Bay.
Second, both are on the fringe of being serious contenders in the American League postseason picture.
Third — and perhaps more importantly — they both have some much-needed help on the way. For the Rays, it already has started.
Second baseman Brandon Lowe played for the first time in just over two months in Saturday’s extra-innings 6-4 loss to the Orioles. Lowe had been out with a back injury. He’s doing a 45-minute stretching routine before games to keep his back loose. Lowe said that beats the alternative.
“It’s nice to do these things for the first time and not feel anything,” said Lowe, who had two hits and a walk and scored three runs Saturday.
Lowe wasn’t the only Rays player to return from a long-term injury Saturday. Starting pitcher Ryan Yarbrough pitched for the first time since June 30 and went 5 1/3 innings, while allowing two earned runs and five hits without giving up a walk.
More help should come from reliever Pete Fairbanks (back), who is expected to be activated when the All-Star break ends. Pitcher Jeffrey Springs (leg) could be back before the end of the month.
That’s the good news for Tampa Bay, which has a whopping 11 pitchers on the injury list. The Rays also have an injured catcher in Mike Zunino, who is out with a left shoulder injury. Manager Kevin Cash said the break may be enough for Zunino to start feeling better.
Further out on the injury horizon are shortstop Wander Franco (wrist), who isn’t expected back until about the end of August, and outfielder Manuel Margot (knee), who is looking at a similar timetable.
The downside is that the Rays aren’t expecting pitchers Andrew Kittredge, Shane Baez and Tyler Glasnow to return this season, and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (hip) could return in September, or not until next season.
But the Rays still will come out of the All-Star break in better shape than when they went into it.
The Orioles also are trying to get healthy. Outfielder Austin Hays has been playing with a recurring wrist injury. The Orioles are hoping the downtime gives Hays enough time to fully recover.
They also have high hopes for pitcher Kyle Bradish in the second half of the season. Bradish was sharp in a Double-A outing Thursday night. He is expected to pitch in one or two more rehab games before joining the Orioles.
The New York Yankees appear to be running away with the American League East.
“They don’t call it the AL Beast for nothing,” Baltimore pitcher Tyler Wells said. “(The Rays) are a very good team, as is everyone in our division. But we’re right there with them. We’re just as hard to beat. The stretch for the last few weeks has really been an eye-opener for us, especially after the last few years when I don’t think we’ve had the confidence. We’re going to compete and show we belong here.”
–Field Level Media