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Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles @ Boston Red Sox, 27-29 August 2013

After a 5-4 homestand, the O's depart on a nine-game road trip, beginning with three games at Fenway Park.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

I went to just before posting this preview, and the top story on their home page was headlined "Tough stretch over, Sox set up for stretch run." It's fun to think to myself, "Er, but they're about to face the Orioles," and actually be somewhat serious rather than silly.

Of course, the O's are a long shot to really contend for the division at this point, sitting 5.5 games back, but they can't afford to lose series regardless, since they're also 2.5 games back in the wild card hunt. The win against the A's helped, but they need to do better than 5-4 homestands to close that gap.

Tuesday, 27 August: Wei-Yin Chen vs. Felix Doubront
Career Numbers Chen vs. Red Sox Doubront vs. O's
IP 24.1 27.2
ERA 2.96 3.58
FIP 3.14 4.32
Slash Line (Past Teams) .277/.314/.415 .243/.308/.449
Slash Line (Current Players) .296/.356/.500 .256/.319/.415

Chen put together a good outing on Wednesday, holding the Rays to two runs (on solo homers) over seven innings and avoiding what could've been a painful sweep. Since coming off of the disabled list, all but one of his starts has been an official quality start. Chen's also pitched quite well against the Red Sox in the past, in part because he's only given up one home run in 24.1 innings against them.

After three dominant outings against the O's in 2012, Doubront had his first bad start against them on 13 June, giving up four runs (three earned) in 4.2 innings. His strikeout rate (7.84 K/9) is down a bit from last year (9.34 K/9), which is good for the Orioles, who struck out thirty times in twenty innings facing him in 2012. Doubront does walk a lot of batters (BB/9: 3.74 career, 3.73 in 2013), but gets enough strikeouts and groundballs to escape most of the jams he puts himself into.

Wednesday, 28 August: Bud Norris vs. John Lackey
Career Numbers Norris vs. Red Sox Lackey vs. O's
IP 12.0 142.1
ERA 5.25 3.48
FIP 3.01 3.42
Slash Line (Past Teams) .277/.358/.468 .268/.311/.389
Slash Line (Current Players) .385/.492/.596 .281/.320/.401

Norris got pummeled in his last start, giving up seven runs in 4.2 IP against Oakland - and returning the lead after the O's put up six runs in an inning for him, including Brian Roberts's go-ahead grand slam. (I was at that game. Yes, I'm still annoyed at Norris, despite the team winning.) While he put together three quality starts to begin his days as an Oriole, he's struggled since, failing to finish six innings in three straight outings and losing a game in relief in Arizona. I do not look forward to seeing how Norris does for the next month, given that he'll be facing mostly AL East teams, but the O's will need him to at least be serviceable if they're going to snatch a Wild Card spot.

Lackey is having a one of the best years of his career, sporting a strikeout rate (7.92 K/9) that he hasn't managed in seven years, while walking fewer batters (1.95 BB/9) and inducing more groundballs (49.5%) than ever. He's faced the O's a couple of times this year, with mixed results: a five-run, 6.1 IP outing on 26 July, and a two-run, seven-inning outing on 15 June. Of course, in the latter start, Jones hit a couple of homers just over the right-field scoreboard in Camden Yards; Fenway Park isn't as generous with opposite-field shots to right.

Maybe hot: Stephen Drew (1.433 OPS, 15 PA), Chris Davis (1.049 OPS, 25 PA)

Likely not: Matt Wieters (.417 OPS, 24 PA)

Thursday, 29 August: Chris Tillman vs. Jon Lester
Career Numbers Tillman vs. Red Sox Lester vs. O's
IP 43.1 145.1
ERA 2.08 2.72
FIP 2.89 3.37
Slash Line (Past Teams) .213/.293/.263 .251/.315/.372
Slash Line (Current Players) .186/.279/.216 .234/.295/.370

In my last preview, I was appalled by how bad Tillman has been against the Rays in his young career. This week, I'm surprised to have forgotten just how good he's been against the Red Sox. He of the career 1.41 HR/9 has yet to allow a home run to a man in a Red Sox uniform. That can't last forever, of course, but it's still impressive. Tillman had an excellent start spoiled last time out, when the O's couldn't pull off a win against the A's despite being given eight innings of one-run, nine-strikeout ball. Can we stop talking about the elusive fifteenth win now, since he's pitched well enough to have gotten it three times already? Thanks.

Lester has had a lot of success against the O's in the past, but has become mortal recently, surrendering sixteen runs (fourteen earned) over the last two seasons for a 4.06 ERA. Like Lackey, he's had two starts with very different results against the O's this year: a five-run, five-inning outing on 16 June and seven shutout innings on 28 July. The O's will probably need to avoid striking out eight times again, though; they did so in both of those games.

Maybe hot: Matt Wieters (.892 OPS, 42 PA)

Likely not: Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.231 OPS, 13 PA)

A manager has to help players realize that adjustments are needed. A manager also has to recognize his players' weaknesses and work around them. Sometimes that's not easy. - Earl Weaver