Savor this sentence, for it is the truth for a second consecutive night: the first-place Baltimore Orioles are taking on the last-place Boston Red Sox tonight. The Red Sox are tied for last in the AL East with the New York Yankees, 5.5 games behind the division-leading Orioles.
The $84,102,333 question is how long this situation will last. A win tonight would see it persist for at least another day, whereas a loss would tie the O's season-high losing streak - only three games, but still - and potentially vault Boston out of the basement for the duration. That ephemeral concept, momentum, is what is on the line. Either its burgeoning emergence in favor of Boston can be hijacked or, like the horror movie villain Andrew and I contemplated on this week's Camdencast, the Red Sox, after all the beatings they have taken, will continue to come at us, perhaps with blood-stained socks.
It's Brian Matusz who stands between us and that grim fate. Although if we want to get technical, that's not true, because it's actually the entirety of the 25-man roster, as it will ultimately be applied in tonight's game by manager Buck Showalter, that stands between us and allowing the Red Sox to ascend from the depths. The starting pitcher has a lot to do with the outcome, though, so it's simplest to say it that way. Thus, Matusz. Three of his past five starts have been of the quality start (6+ IP, 3 ER or less) variety, which is three more quality starts than he had in all of last year. He is the variable I find hardest to predict on this team. Will he keep muddling along at the way-better-than-last-year-but-still-awful 5.36 ERA level? Will it balloon worse again? Will it steadily get better? We hope the steady progress continues tonight.
Boston's starter is Felix Doubront, whom they have been tenderly shepherding through the organization since signing him out of Venezuela in 2005. With 44 innings in eight starts, the lefty is not exactly eating the innings, so the potential for a shortened outing is there, if the O's can work him and capitalize. Doubront has 44 strikeouts and 21 walks in those innings, holding his ERA at 4.09 even with a WHIP of 1.48.
Tonight's game marks the return from the DL for Kevin Youkilis, much-cursed in these parts mostly because he always seems to destroy the Orioles. Youkilis is at first base tonight so Will Middlebrooks can remain at third, which has at least temporarily pushed Adrian Gonzalez out to right field. Gonzalez has played in 1,059 games at the major league level in his career, and in that time he's played right field for a total of 35 innings. Boston has kept scoring runs even with a lineup held together by duct tape and baling wire; if Youkilis comes back close to form, their lineup will only be that much more dangerous as the ship is righted.
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES||BOSTON RED SOX|
|Robert Andino - 2B||Mike Aviles - SS|
|J.J. Hardy - SS||Dustin Pedroia - 2B|
|Nick Markakis - RF||David Ortiz - DH|
|Adam Jones - CF||Adrian Gonzalez - RF|
|Matt Wieters - C||Kevin Youkilis - 1B|
|Wilson Betemit - 1B||Will Middlebrooks - 3B|
|Chris Davis - DH||Jarrod Saltalamacchia - C|
|Steve Tolleson - 3B||Daniel Nava - LF|
|Xavier Avery - LF||Marlon Byrd - CF|