The Baltimore Orioles couldn't think of a better time to record their first three-game sweep at home over the Tampa Bays in over five years.
A return to consistency by starter Wei-Yin Chen would go a long way in helping the O's accomplish that goal as they turn to the left-hander for Thursday's finale at Camden Yards.
Baltimore picked up its fourth straight victory over Tampa Bay on Wednesday, taking the middle contest of this series by a 3-2 margin. Nate McLouth drove in Manny Machado from second with a single in the bottom of the ninth, giving the O's their seventh victory in 10 games while putting the club 18 games over .500 (80-62) for the first time since the end of the 1997 season.
McLouth began the season by hitting .140 in 34 games with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but is batting .279 with a pair of homers and 13 RBI in 35 games since joining the Orioles after getting released.
"He's a baseball player and he can hit," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said about McClouth. "He enjoys the competition and you can see it. He's constantly engaged in the action."
Baltimore remained in a tie with the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East as well as for the league's second wild card spot. Tampa Bay fell three games off the pace for a postseason spot following its fourth loss in six games and is in danger of getting swept in Baltimore for the first time since July 24-26, 2007.
"They got the big hit and we didn't. That's what it comes down to," Rays manager Joe Maddon said about the ninth inning. "We have to figure out a way to score a run there."
Chen, meanwhile, has to figure out some things on the mound. The surprise lefty is 12-9 through 28 starts in his first season in the majors, but his earned run average of 4.06 is the highest it has been all season.
Chen yielded seven runs in an outing for the second time in six starts on Friday, logging his second straight loss after yielding three homers over 4 2/3 innings versus the Yankees.
The 27-year-old is 1-2 with a 3.72 ERA in three meetings with the Rays and did hurl seven scoreless innings to beat them on the road in the most recent encounter on Aug. 4.
The Rays counter with Jeremy Hellickson, who has given up two runs or fewer in four of his last five starts, but has gone just 1-3 over that span.
The 25-year-old righty gave up one run -- on a solo homer -- over six innings against the Texas Rangers on Friday, but did not factor into a 3-1 extra- inning victory. That left Hellickson 8-10 on the season with a 3.33 ERA through 26 starts.
"For the most part I kept the ball down and just mixed it up," Hellickson said of his outing.
He is 1-2 with a 3.42 ERA in four starts versus Baltimore this season.
The Rays and Orioles split their previous 12 meetings prior to this series, including six encounters in Baltimore.