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Rangers set to test their mettle against AL upstart Baltimore

No one could have predicted that the Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles would be among the AL’s best ahead of their battle this weekend at Camden Yards.

ARLINGTON, Texas — For the third time this season, the Texas Rangers will get their second look at an opponent.

Texas went 6-1 against the Kansas City Royals and Oakland Athletics in the second meetings, but those are two of the worst teams in the American League. 

This time, the Rangers will meet the Baltimore Orioles again, a team that trails only the Tampa Bay Rays for the best record in the AL. 

The last time the Orioles and Rangers collided, it was in Arlington and it was the second series of the season where Texas dropped two of three. The Rangers, for the most part, are the same team that Baltimore saw then – they’re even going to throw two of the same three pitchers that the Orioles saw the first time, sans Jacob deGrom of course. 

The Orioles, who went into the season with relatively low expectations in an always strong AL East, have proven to be early powerhouses beyond what anyone would have thought.

In many ways, their story so far in 2023 mirrors that of the Rangers. 

Here’s what to make of the upcoming series from Charm City:

Where Baltimore is coming from

With a series win over Texas in their back pockets, Baltimore has gone 33-17 this season and is just three games back of Tampa Bay, having whittled the lead down from a 6.5 game deficit on May 8. 

The Orioles also just completed a 5-1 road trip against the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees and are 7-3 in their last 10. If the Rays hadn’t done what the Rays did in the first month of the season (23-6 through April), the Orioles could very well be the league’s top dog by now. 

What’s more amazing about the Orioles’ run in the first couple of months of the season is that their stats are fairly middle of the road. They rank right in the middle of the Major Leagues in batting average and hits, just outside the top ten in home runs and just inside the top ten in walks, strikeouts and OPS. 

Where they are playing some good baseball is late in games as a striking inverse to Texas.

From the seventh inning on, Baltimore is fourth-best in the American League and third-best in all of baseball in late and close situations. Their bullpen has been in lockdown mode, as well. The relievers are second in all of baseball with a 3.00 ERA, fourth in saves with 16, second in strikeouts with 228 and fifth in opponent batting average at .222.

Their rotation appears to be their weakest point, as their starters sit in the bottom 10 of ERA with 4.76, bottom five while giving up 45 home runs, and opponents are hitting .267 off of them.

The Rangers will see two of the three starters that they saw at the start of the year, as well.

Things to watch for

  • Game 50: 6:05 PM CT - RHP Jon Gray (4-1, 3.02 ERA) vs. RHP Grayson Rodriguez (2-1, 6.21 ERA)
  • Game 51: 3:05 PM CT - LHP Andrew Heaney (3-3, 4.13 ERA) vs. RHP Dean Kremer (5-1, 4.61 ERA)
  • Game 52: 12:05 PM CT - RHP Dane Dunning (4-0, 1.67 ERA) vs. RHP Kyle Bradish (2-1, 4.34 ERA)

The first two matchups in this weekend series will have the Orioles facing the same two pitchers they saw at the start of the season.

Jon Gray will get the nod on Friday night against Grayson Rodriguez. Back in April, Gray gave up just two runs over 6 ⅓ innings and took the hard-luck loss. That was Gray’s first start of the season. More recently, the righty has been on a roll, giving up two runs in his last three starts, including a near complete game shutout of the Athletics. 

Rodriguez took a no-decision last time against Texas, as he gave up just two runs over five innings in his MLB debut. The right-hander has not fared as well in recent starts, alternating decent outings with poor ones so far in May. In his last four starts, the Nacogdoches, Texas, hurler has given up six runs, two runs, eight runs, and then two runs. He’s not missing many bats, as opponents have racked up 28 hits off of him over those four games. 

On Saturday afternoon, Andrew Heaney goes for Texas against Dean Kremer. The Rangers missed Kremer last time out, as his first game in 2023 was in the opening series against Boston. The Baltimore righty had a very home-run prone April. His opponents hit seven round-trippers off of him in his six April starts. He has settled down since then. In May, Kremer has only given up five runs in his four starts with just two home runs allowed. He’s 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA in the month. 

Andrew Heaney, meanwhile, has had an up-and-down May: starting out terribly, but enjoying some well pitched games lately.

In his last two starts, Heaney went six innings in each and gave up just one run against Oakland, while enjoying a scoreless outing against Colorado his last time out. The last time Heaney went up against Baltimore, however, the Orioles roughed him up for seven runs and knocked him out in the third inning. 

The finale sees Dane Dunning in deGrom’s spot going up against Kyle Bradish. Bradish didn’t see much of the Rangers back in April. He was removed early from his start after a comebacker nailed him in the foot and ended up on the injury list before returning in the second half of April.

In his last start in New York, Bradish gave up four runs in five innings of work. 

Dunning is coming off of a no-decision in his last outing, which came in the opener of the most recent series in Pittsburgh. Still, Dunning has been humming along, only allowing one run in 5 ⅔ innings in that start. Dunning will remain in the shadow of deGrom, who threw five perfect innings against the O’s back in April.

This will be another series much like the one against the Pirates where Texas will be facing a good team with an opportunity to measure themselves. This won’t be an easy series by any stretch. Texas will have to hit the Baltimore starters early and the Orioles are going to want to get into the Rangers’ bullpen early, or at least keep it close until the later innings. 

If it comes down to a game of bullpens, the Rangers could be in trouble.

But if the offense can keep smashing their way against the starters at Orioles’ Park, it could be a happy time on the East Coast for Texas.

Do you think the Rangers will take the series in Baltimore and move up in the American League? Share your predictions with Matt on Twitter @FisherWritesMLB.

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