This is one of those games that is very hard to not fall immediately in love with one team from a baseball wagering perspective. It's a deep love, and one not easily shaken no matter how hard you try to ignore it.
This is also one of those games that's highly significant, to quote corporal Radar O'Reilly, US Army. The Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays are locked in a mortal struggle to make the American League playoffs as they continue their weekend set Saturday evening at St. Pete's Tropicana Field (7:10 p.m. ET).
Opening odds for Saturday's affair listed Tampa Bay at -125, and the 8-run total was shaded to the 'under.'
Friday's series opener was still in progress and found the two clubs deadlocked in second place of the AL East, 6.5-games behind the New York Yankees. The most glaring difference in their identical 55-50 records is the return at the betting windows where those backing the O's were up 14.5 units while following the Rays all season has left bettors 1.1 units in the red. Tampa is coming home after going 6-3 on a 9-game road that started in Baltimore and saw the Rays win that series along with sets in Anaheim and Oakland.
Tampa Bay was priced at -165 for the first game of the series behind Matt Moore; Baltimore was sending Tommy Hunter to the hill with an 8-run total.
The biggest reason to fall in love with one team on Saturday is the starting pitching matchup. Wei-Lin Chen has had two losing experiences in this, his rookie season, against Tampa Bay while Jeremy Hellickson has been outstanding facing the O's during his brief career with a 2.25 ERA over eight starts and a relief appearance.
It's a duel we saw about 10 days ago at Camden Yards where Hellickson and the Rays prevailed 3-1 as 125 underdogs. Both hurlers worked into the seventh with Chen allowing all three Tampa Bay runs and Hellickson charged with the Orioles' only plate crossing.
Chen's previous experience this year vs. the Rays came at The Trop on June 1 when he lasted two outs into the sixth and allowed all of Tampa Bay's runs in a five-zip shutout started by David Price. The Taiwanese lefty brings a 4.27 road ERA into Saturday's tilt, more than a run higher than his mark at home.
A late fielding miscue sabotaged Hellickson and the Rays in his first start of 2012 vs. Baltimore. All told this season, he's tossed 13 innings against the O's and surrendered two earned runs while allowing seven hits and a walk against 12 strikeouts.
Tampa Bay holds the slim 5-4 edge in matchups with Baltimore on this year's slate. The Rays took two of three at The Trop in early June, the 'under' also the winner in two of the three contests. Twelve of the last 16 played in Florida have failed to reach the scoreboard hurdle.
The Orioles recently lost designated hitter Jim Thome to the 15-day disabled list with a neck injury that is expected to keep him sidelined into mid-August. Bettors will want to keep an eye on the Don Best Pro Odds for updates regarding Tampa Bay 3B Evan Longoria who has been out since early may due to his left hamstring. Longoria was on a rehab assignment this week but reportedly was experiencing some soreness which could derail the club's plans to activate him at some point this weekend.