Orioles-Red Sox Series Preview (4/26-4/28)


The first month of the season is fast approaching its end and, unfortunately for the Orioles, things

are starting to look very familiar in the A.L. East standings. At the top is the Yankees, followed by the Rays, the Red Sox, the Blue Jays and, yes, the Orioles. Just like you, I too am sick of losing. It is too easy to fall into that last-place mentality. But, here is one positive point to ponder – on April 25th, 2010, the Orioles were 3-18 and were 11 games back. On April 25th, 2011, we’re 8-12 and only 5 games back. So, bring on those Red Sox. Because the glass is half full, baby.

Pitching Matchups:

Tuesday 4/26:  Zach Britton (3-1, 3.16 ERA) vs Clay Buchholz (1-2, 5.31 ERA) – Buchholz has had his issues to start the season, walking 14 (to only 10 strikeouts). Meanwhile, Zach Britton overcame a bad outing in Cleveland, getting his third win last week, at home against the Twins.

Weds 4/27:  Jeremy Guthrie (1-3, 3.12 ERA) vs Josh Beckett (2-1, 1.93 ERA) – this should be a good match-up. Guthrie is not getting much run support (but who on the O’s staff is?), but is still pitching well. Meanwhile, Beckett is on fire, going 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his last three starts.

Thurs 4/28: Brad Bergensen (0-3, 5.40 ERA ) vs  Jon Lester (2-1, 2.59 ERA). On paper, this match-up favors the Sox. But at some point you have to figure Brad is going to get his act together (or he may not get many  more changes to try). Meanwhile, Lester is  13-0 with a 2.33 ERA in 16 starts lifetime against the Orioles. Maybe he’s due for a loss?

Who’s Hot for the Orioles:

Adam Jones had a good series against the Yankees, getting a 3-run homer in the first game, and a hit and two runs in the second game. Jones also made a fantastic throw to the plate to keep the game tied 3-3 in extra innings.

Zach Britton, despite being sick with the flu, pitched six strong innings against the Twins on Weds. to notch his third victory. He has a 3.16 ERA and a very low 1.17 WHIP.

Who’s Hot for the Red Sox (from Derek at Bo Sox Injection):

Jed Lowrie – he has managed to work his way into the everyday shortstop position and it’s been because of both his offense and defense.  Lowrie’s offesnvie numbers are very impressive (.431, .455, .686) and he continues to get the big hit when the Red Sox need it most. He’s got a modest 4 game hitting streak going and has hit safely in his last 11 of 12 games.

Who’s Cold for the Orioles:

Josh Rupe – whose ERA has spiked to 7.71. Not what you want to see from a relief pitcher.

Derek Lee – everyone knows that he is struggling except maybe Buck Showalter. Hey, Buck, why not take some pressure off of Lee and move him down in the lineup until he starts hitting?

Who’s Cold for the Red Sox (from Derek at Bo Sox Injection):

Carl Crawford – despite batting all over the lineup, most recently in 8th spot, he continues to find his rhythm.  He’s hitting .171, .218, .244 and hasn’t been on base as much as he needs to be in order to be effective.  He’s collected 4 hits in his last 2 games, including his first home run of the year on Sunday, so perhaps he’s turning the corner.

Injured Orioles:

Good news on the Brian Matusz front. The starter is set to throw off flat surfaces starting on 4/28. Hopefully he’ll be back in the rotation by mid-May.

JJ Hardy is taking swings and is scheduled to come off the DL at the end of this month.

Meanwhile, pitchers Justin Duchscherer and Chris Jakubauskas are still on the DL for the foreseeable future.

Injured Red Sox (from Derek at Bo Sox Injection):

Junichi Tazawa – 60-day DL with Torn ulnar collateral ligament – due back in July

Three questions from Bo Sox Injection to Birdswatcher:

1)   Having lost 8 of their last 10, what’s gone wrong for the Orioles in that stretch that have seem them fall from first in the division to fourth?

a.   Well, they say baseball is a simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball and you catch the ball. The only part we are doing well in this losing stretch is catch the ball. The defense is solid, but the team batting average is .230 and the team ERA is 4.74 (highest in the AL). The pitching staff is young. So we we’re expecting some ups and downs. Some of the young guns have done quite well, while others have struggled. The bullpen has been very inconsistent. But the biggest issue is the team batting. The whole team is in a slump, which is quite disappointing, considering they went out and got a lot of new hitters in the hopes of improving this aspect of the team. Luckly it’s still early and there is time to snap out of it.

2.)   The Orioles proved that they want to compete sooner than later, by making some big off season acquisitions in Guerrero and Derek Lee to name a few.  And with Buck Showalter proving he can lead this group, where do you feel this group will finish the year and how soon will they compete for the division or wild card?

a.  Honestly, my answer to this question changes every day. But truthfully, I (and I believe most fans) would be very happy with a finish above .500 this year. This will show a big step in the right direction (considering we have had 13 losing seasons). Even if we get close to .500, and the young pitching staff has shown signifigant improvement, that would be ok. I do think it will be a few years before we can even talk playoffs. Of course you can always hope to catch magic in a bottle and get there sooner. But we do compete in the toughest division in baseball, by far. It is nice that we are going to get another Wild Card team in 2012.
3)   Brian Roberts missed a substantial amount of time last season and already this year he’s proving he can make a difference by putting up MVP like numbers.  Just what does Roberts mean to this team and how are they different when he’s in the lineup?

a.  Roberts is most definitely the heart and soul of the Orioles. He is the oldest tenured player on the team and everyone repects him. As far as the difference he makes… in the lineup, he is that spark that gets rallies started. When he gets on base, good things happen. In the field, he makes the tough plays. When the Orioles get out of this slump, I’m sure it will be B-Rob that will be leading the way.

Three questions from Birdswatcher to  Bo Sox Injection:

1)   After starting 2-8 and in the first 10 games, the Red Sox have turned it around and are now 10-11 in the division. In your opinion, what is the number one reason for the change? And do you see this direction continuing?

a.   I feel that the number one reason for the sudden turn around has been the starting pitching.  All 5 starters have been rock solid over the past 9 games and on two occasions Dice-K flirted with no hitters, allowing only 1 hit in each of his last 2 starts.  Beckett appears to have found his old form, Lester is showing no signs of an April struggle and even John Lackey has been great in his last 2 starts.  Clay Buchholz is about the only one who has struggled with his command, but has still been good enough to get a win.  Currently this group of starters is on pace to set a new record for ERA, however there is still way too much baseball left to start talking stats like that.  All Red Sox fans know what Dice-K can do, the problem is we all know what he can also bring on an off night.  While the pitching has been dominant, I have to think that they will come back a little bit to the rest of the AL hitters.  Guys like Lester and maybe even Beckett will lead the way in wins for this squad and if Dice-K and Lackey can stay relatively strong and dominate some games then I would expect the Red Sox to contend for the division. 
2)   Do you believe that Daisuke Matsuzaka is really turning things around? Or do the Sox have a Plan B starting pitcher option waiting in the wings?

a.   That’s a tough question.  As I eluded to above, everyone has seen him at his worst and for the past two years its been an all too common sight.  Which is why his last two starts are so surprising.  With a new pitching coach this year in Curt Young, the first thing he and Dice-K did in Spring Training was give an two days of rest, rather than one for a simulated workout.  It appeared to work in February and March as Dice-K was excellent on the mound.  Then the season started and after two starts Red Sox Nation wanted him gone and they didn’t care how.  Either trade him for a bag of batting practice balls or outright release would have sufficed, Dice-K’s time in Boston had come to an end.  Two starts later the drama continues has he’s completely rejuvenated faith from Red Sox Nation, albeit on a short term basis.  Should Dice-K falter again, the Red Sox have a couple of options.  The veteran Tim Wakefield is available to go every fifth day and so is Alfredo Aceves, although  he may be a short term starter.  Felix Dubount could also start some games to help band aid any kind of disaster that Dice-K could leave behind. 
3)   The Red Sox team batting average is only .239 (which is .009 higher than the Orioles team batting average). Why do you think the team has been so slow to hit? Which player(s) do you believe will turn around soon?

a.   The offense so far this year has been a funny one.  One game it appears all systems are in check and they get going. Only to leave 10 men on base the following night.  There have been 3 fairly consistent bats so far in Pedroia, Lowrie and Gonzalez.  Other than that it’s been balanced attack at the plate on different nights.  David Ortiz isn’t belting home runs (0 since the opening series against Texas), but he is coming through with RBI’s when the Sox need them.  Jacoby Ellsbury has a share of the team lead in home runs with 4, but his OBP is significantly lower than what he’s used to.  Thanks to a casting call type offense that seems to get the big hits when they need them from different players every night, the Red Sox are winning.  Kevin Youkilis appears to have found his stride as his average continues to climb and the long balls continue to find outfield stands.  The one big hole has been from Carl Crawford.  The high prized free agent has struggled and as a result has been all over the batting lineup.  I would look for him to get on track in the month of May and perhaps even sooner as he has back to back 2 hit games heading into Baltimore.

Special thanks to Derek from Bo Sox Injection for his collaboration on this series preview.