The Rays are 12-4, and they lead the second-place Orioles by 5 ½ games.
The Orioles are 7-10. They have a 6-4 record on the road, but have lost six of seven at home.
“I like the way our team plays,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “We’ve been in almost every single game. It’s just been something here or there and we’ve come up short a few times.
“I love the way they compete. I love the way we grind out at-bats. It’s a team effort. Guys are really pulling for each other. Obviously, I wish our record was better, but I’m happy with how we’ve been going about our business and how we’re playing, and I feel like we’re going to improve as the season goes on.”
The Orioles are giving up nearly six earned runs a game, and the 5.98 ERA will have to shrink for improvement.
Tampa Bay has a 2.44 ERA and has given up just 12 home runs in 16 games. In their first 16 games, the Orioles set a major league record by allowing 40. In Monday’s 8-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles didn’t allow a home run of the first time this season.
Before Monday’s game, Hyde said the pitchers need to do better when they fall behind in the count.
“I think we could definitely execute in leveraged counts on the mound,” Hyde said. “We could definitely execute better on the mound in big spots and not get beat in the middle of the play. I see that a lot.”
Entering Monday’s game, the Orioles had pitched horribly when the count was 3-and-1 or 3-and-2.
In 37 3-and-1 counts, Oriole opponents hit .563 with a .784 on-base percentage and an eye-popping 1.500 slugging average. That equals an OPS (on-base plus slugging average) of 2.284.
In 37 full counts, Oriole opponents numbers were .310/.495/.521 for an OPS of 1.016.
Meanwhile, the Rays hold opponents to a .197 average, a .398 on-base percentage and .303 slugging percentage for a .701 OPS. Their 3-and-1 counts weren’t great, .400/.714/.400 for an 1.114 OPS, but they were far better than the Orioles.
Hyde knows what he wants to see from his pitchers.
“Just a not giving-in attitude,” he said. “I think our guys are still developing and still understanding that that’s important. Sometimes, it’s appropriate to walk a guy. Sometimes, it’s appropriate to pitch on the black. There are other times where you want to be aggressive and go right at guys. Guys are still finding the right times to do that.”
Things got better on Monday when Paul Fry struck out Steve Pearce on a 3-2 count. Evan Phillips, who pitched for the second straight game, threw a scoreless inning.
“I thought Paul Fry and Evan Phillips were really good, but they’ve been good,” Hyde said. “They both have some swing-and-miss stuff. I love their aggressiveness. They attacked early and went to chase late and got some big outs for us.”
Overall, the Orioles’ are better in several ways than they were a year ago. After 17 games in 2018, the Orioles were 5-12, and in their first 17 games a year ago had struck out 175 times. They struck out 10 or more times in 12 of those games.
This year, they’ve struck out 147 times, and 10 or more times in just six games.
They were an abysmal 19-62 on the road. They’ve already won six. A year ago, they didn’t win their sixth road game until May 24.
Hyde likes that the Orioles are able to add to their lead as they did on Monday, when they scored four runs in the eighth and ninth to put the game out of reach.
“The tack-on runs is enormous,” Hyde said. “Anytime you have a chance when you have a lead to extend it, it saves your bullpen…it’s just so important, and I love the fact that when we had the lead today, we continued to battle, continued to take really good at-bats, not kind of cruise into the end of the game, but actually continue to score, and that’s what good teams do.”