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Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles vs. Boston Red Sox, 13-16 June 2013

Can a mid-June series be pivotal? If it can, this one is pivotal.

Jim Rogash

One of the oddities of the AL East horse race to date is that the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox have only played head-to-head once, even though it's mid-June. The Orioles have seen every other division rival more often. The Red Sox roll into town for a four-game set starting tonight, with 3.5 games separating the clubs. A four-game sweep by either team would drastically change the playoff picture. Even a three-of-four would put a little bit of churn into the standings. A split would not only leave the two teams where they started relative to one another, but potentially create an opening for New York or Tampa to shake things up a bit.

The Orioles come in with starting pitching that continues to be a question mark in every game not started by Chris Tillman, and an offense that seems to be clicking again after a couple of challenging games. The Red Sox come in with ... well, everything is kind of working for the Red Sox. They've won 7 of their last 10 and pushed their season run differential to +78. They're leading the AL in runs per game, and in the middle of the pack in runs allowed. Seems like a pretty good formula to me.

With no further ado, let's see how things line up!

June 13th: Kevin Gausman (0-3, 8.84) vs. Felix Doubront (4-3, 4.84)

In my expert analysis, this is a matchup that could absolutely cut either way. We all know Kevin Gausman is better than he's looked so far. We don't know when the results are actually going to come through, though. The entire Red Sox lineup will be seeing Gausman for the first time.

This is the Orioles' first time seeing Doubront in 2013. They've seen him six times in all, three as a starter, and he's acquitted himself pretty well, posting a 3.13 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP and 5.33 K/BB ratio to back it up. 2013 hasn't been a great season for Doubront, though, with his hit and walk rates all trending the wrong way from his 2012 numbers. Orioles fans will have to see if their resurgent offense can rattle Doubront early. The Orioles have a few hitters who have really raked against Doubront in limited PAs (Chris Davis, Manny Machado and Nick Markakis are a combined 11-for-29 with a couple homers) and a few who've been woefully bad (Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters are a combined 2-for-31 with 16 Ks).

June 14th: Chris Tillman (6-2, 3.89) vs. Ryan Dempster (4-6, 4.40)

Because baseball likes to laugh at people who make what should be obvious predictions, Chris Tillman is the Orioles' most reliable starter. I know what to expect when Chris Tillman starts. I'll probably be frustrated with his pitch count. He'll probably cough up one or more solo home runs. But he'll probably go six-ish innings and give the team a chance to win, which is more than I can reasonably expect from our other starters right now. The Red Sox' overhauled lineup actually means that Tillman hasn't faced a lot of their hitters many times -- Dustin Pedroia (.840 OPS in 17 PAs) and Mike Napoli (1.000 OPS in 6 PAs) stand out as names to look out for, but Tillman has handled the rest of the team's regulars pretty well (7-for-38). Fun fact: Chris Tillman has never allowed a home run to any of the current Red Sox starters. Anyone want to bet on him to keep that going on Friday?

Dempster has been around for a while, but it was mostly in the NL, so the only Orioles with lots of PAs against him are Nate McLouth and J.J. Hardy, and those are mostly older. For Hardy, it ain't pretty (2-for-28), but McLouth is a little more promising (6-for-22, 1 HR, .929 OPS). The other Orioles head-to-head stats against Dempster are from one start where he got knocked around a bit, so I'm not going to call them meaningful, but they look good on paper.

June 15th: Freddy Garcia (3-3, 4.47) vs. John Lackey (3-5, 3.14)

Hold on to your butts for this one, people. Sweaty Freddy has had a real seesaw season, and coming off a serviceable start against Anaheim, he could be in for anything against Boston. John Lackey, meanwhile, is finally looking like the pitcher the Red Sox thought they were getting back in 2010, but frankly, I'm not buying it until it sticks for more than a couple months.

The head-to-head stats in this matchup are a little more meaningful than most. Garcia will need to work around Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz (combined 18-for-56 with 3 HRs), and Lackey has had trouble with both Nick Markakis (.357/.438/.476 in 48 PAs) and Chris Davis (1.291 OPS in 19 PAs). Lackey will probably challenge Adam Jones before Davis gets to the plate though, as Jones has only managed a 6-for-29 (.502 OPS) in 31 head-to-head PAs.

June 16th: TBA vs. TBA

T-B-A! T-B-A! Officially, the Orioles have announced Miguel Gonzalez for this game, but his wife is due to have their first child any day now. If that happens, we could be seeing Zach Britton, Jair Jurrjens, Jake Arrieta -- who knows? Frankly, I'd really like that baby to stay warm and cozy until June 17th or so. Mike Gonzalez has a 2.76 career ERA against the Red Sox, and he's been rock solid since he came back from the DL, after a little bit of shakiness to start this season. I'd really like to see him get a chance to keep his roll going.

The Red Sox haven't announced a starter yet, but Clay Buchholz looks like a likely option. Frankly, I hope they go with some other option, because Buchholz is one of those pitchers who seems to shut the Orioles down a lot. But Buchholz's neck has been acting up, and if the Orioles don't get to face him, they probably get Jon Lester instead. Is that better? Lester's career 2.63 career ERA against the Orioles, and his beast-mode 2013 season to date, both say no.

So, Orioles fans, who will own it? How will this series go down?