The Rays and the Orioles -- perhaps the AL's biggest surprises through the season's first two months -- will jockey for position atop baseball's most crowded division. Just 2 1/2 games separated last-place Boston from first-place Baltimore and Tampa Bay entering Thursday.
"You can't get caught up in that mentality," O's manager Buck Showalter said prior to Baltimore's nine-game road trip. "You go out there, grind, bust it and see where it takes you. Fall into that trap, and you will have some real mental and emotional momentum that will work against you."
The Rays aren't taking the upstart Orioles lightly.
"It's going to be a big series for us," southpaw David Price said. "We need to get some wins."
Price, who is scheduled to start Friday's series opener, has watched Baltimore's collection of young hitters blossom.
"They've always had young talent, and that talent is getting experience over the last couple of years," he said. "Adam Jones is having a great year, so is Chris Davis, Matt Wieters. They're gaining experience, and it's showing."
As much as the Orioles rely on their young bats, the young Baltimore starters will continue to be battle tested, including Friday's starter, Wei-Yin Chen. So far the 26-year-old southpaw has held up to the challenge of his first season in the Majors, going 4-1 with a 3.31 ERA in nine starts.
Showalter acknowledged that Chen, like the rest of his rotation, must remain on task, especially within the division.
"[We'd like to] be a little more consistent with our starting pitching. Obviously, [Tampa Bay] has a really good pitching staff. We'll take a day off [after Wednesday's loss to Toronto] and regroup and see where we are with some physical issues and go about the competition of a six-month season," Showalter noted.
Orioles: Arrieta in a funk
After taking the loss in Tuesday's 8-6 defeat to the Blue Jays, Jake Arrieta fell to 2-6 on the season. In his last five starts, he is 0-4 with an 8.00 ERA.
"I knew I needed to go out there and pitch deep into the game and give my team a little confidence -- and not doing that, it is pretty upsetting personally," Arrieta said following Tuesday's start, in which he lasted just 4 1/3 innings. "Especially when I know the way I can throw and I know I can do it on a consistent basis. Not doing it for several starts now, it hurts. It hurts my team."
Rays: Lefty finding his groove
Price has averaged better than seven innings per outing over his last seven starts and has posted a 2.28 ERA in that span.
"I've been able to throw pretty much all my pitches for strikes right now," he said. "We've been able to get ahead, get some early outs, things like that. [Catcher] Jose [Molina] and I have been on the same page, and we've got it going pretty good."
In nine career starts against Baltimore, Price is 4-2 with a 2.90 ERA.
The Orioles took two of three from the Rays in mid-May.