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Orioles @ Red Sox series preview, 18 - 21 April

The O's head north to Boston for a four-game series with the Red Sox. Tillman, Norris, Jimenez, and Chen for the O's. Lackey, Doubront, Peavy, and Buchholz for the Red Sox.

Two out of two against the Rays has the O's jumping for joy.
Two out of two against the Rays has the O's jumping for joy.
Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
Friday, 18 April (7:10pm) - Chris Tillman vs. John Lackey
2014 Stats Tillman (1-1)
Lackey (2-1)
IP 21.1
ERA 0.84
FIP 3.29
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .188/.217/.288

Game notes: Chris Tillman leads off the series yet again. Considering how well he's pitched, he could easily be 3-0, but the defense behind him has been suspect at times. He's coming off of two straight starts of 8+ innings pitched. Tillman will make his second start against Boston this season. He went 5 innings in the first start (opening day) and allowed 1 run on 7 hits (a solo homer). Of his first three starts, he's kept the ball on the ground far more in the latter two (just 22% in the first game) and it's allowed him to go deeper in the game. Tillman is traditionally good in April (and March) with just a .689 OPS against, but he's far exceeded his stats from '11 and '13.

A reason to watch: The defense. It's been a pretty up and down season as far as that's concerned. The outfield has been pretty horrendous. Nick Markakis is making most every play look difficult, but in some cases, it seems to be helping him out (see yesterday's double play at second). Nelson Cruz takes the scenic route to pretty much every play. You can't doubt the gloves of the infield, but the arms can leave something to be desired. This time, however, the O's will have J.J. Hardy in the lineup and the team is much better when he's there.

Scouting Report: At age 35, John Lackey is still getting it done. He's missed time due to injury in 3 of his last 5 seasons and did not pitch at all in 2012. He returned last year and, win-loss record aside, had perhaps his best season since leaving Anaheim. PITCHf/x looks like it has had a difficult time classifying his pitches. It has recorded Lackey as a mostly cutter guy in some seasons, four-seam fastball guy the next. He also throws a slider that seems to employ a similar character to the cutter, depending on when you look. In any case, he throws a mostly fastball-cutter combo and mixes in a curve and change. Even through multiple injuries, he still throws 91-92, although he doesn't dial up that 95-96 stuff anymore (topped out at a max velocity of 93 last season). Back in his heyday of '08 and '09, his curveball was a pretty solid punch-out pitch and pretty tough to hit, not to mention generated a ton of bad swings. He doesn't throw nearly as often nowadays, but it can still be effective, albeit not possessing the swing and miss tendencies of old.

Maybe hot: Chris Davis (2 HR, 1.025 OPS, 35 PA), Mike Napoli (boom or bust with 5 hits and 7 Ks over 18 PA, but 2 2B, .911 OPS)

Maybe not: Matt Wieters (.375 OPS, 32 OPS), David Ortiz (2-19, .366 OPS)

Saturday, 19 April (1:35pm) - Bud Norris vs. Felix Doubront
2014 Stats Norris (0-1)
Doubront (1-2)
IP 12.0 14.2
ERA 3.75 6.75
FIP 3.89 5.17
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .298/.340/.404 317/.388/.533

Game notes: Bud Norris recovered in his second start against the Blue Jays on Saturday. Control was spotty (3 walks), but just 5 hits in 7 shutout innings. After leading the league in offense last season, the Red Sox have struggled to get going this year, entering the series ranked 26th in offense. The power hasn't come on yet, possibly playing well for Norris, who has allowed only one homer in three games against the Red Sox.

A reason to watch: Remember that relief pitcher the Nats used to have? The guy who would get timed on how fast he could run in from the bullpen to the mound? Pretty sure it was Todd Coffey. Let's do that same thing with David Ortiz. Satellites orbit the earth faster than David Ortiz circles the bases. I'm not putting this here because I think Norris gives up too many homers (if I wanted to complain, I'd do that more with Tillman's 33 homers he allowed last year....), but more because it's a bit sad that it's acceptable to walk the bases so slowly, you can time it on a sundial.

Scouting report: Through three starts in 2014, Doubront is struggling. He has one start against the O's this season and left after allowing 3 ER in 5.1 innings. In his early seasons, his fastball got right up around 93, but for the past season plus, he's been down closer to 90-91. He also throws a two-seamer, cutter, curveball, and change that he'll use in almost identical proportions with the exception of the cutter, a relatively new addition. Doubront's changeup was his best pitch of 2013 - he threw it over 400 times and it proved adept for inducing grounders. Historically, however, his curveball has been his strikeout pitch and batters hit for a .524 OPS (career) when he uses it. He didn't see the same success with it last season, partly because batters swung at the curveball out of the zone just 16% of the time - half his career rate. The swinging strike rate plummeted from 12% in 2012 to 6 percent last season.

Maybe hot: Chris Davis (8-18, 1 HR, 1.222 OPS)

Maybe not: Adam Jones (2H, 8K, 21 PA, .296 OPS)

Sunday, 20 April (7:05pm) - Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Jake Peavy
2014 Stats Jimenez (0-3)
Peavy (0-0)
IP 16.0 18.2
ERA 7.31 1.93
FIP 6.73 4.61
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .348/.442/.576 .179/.286/.403

Game notes: Things have gone from pretty bad to worse for Jimenez with each start. Almost 70% of contact allowed ends up in the air and nearly 15% of those are leaving the park. His velocity is down and his control has been suspect at best. He's 0-1 this season against the Red Sox, allowing 4 ER in 6 IP (2 homers) and has not had great success (.965 OPS) against the team in his career. The good news is that April has been his worst month throughout his career. Things are bound to get better, right?

A reason to watch: It's on ESPN. Those of you not in the MASN viewing area and/or don't possess access to can actually watch an O's game. Of course, it's ESPN, so it's more likely to be a Red Sox game that the O's happen to be playing in, but it is nice to occasionally get on national TV. Now anyone with a satellite/cable TV package can try and stomach a Jimenez start!

Scouting report: Peavy has begun his first full season with the Red Sox in up and down fashion. He's striking out guys like it's 2009 (for him, anyway), but walking them as though he'd like to keep pace with Ubaldo Jimenez. Peavy's velocity has been diminishing since 2007 and he's not topping 90MPH with his fastball this season. He generally tosses a fastball mix including a four-seam, two-seam, and cutter. His less frequent offerings include the standard slider, curve, and change. The slider was once deadly, but he largely abandoned it last season (it wasn't a plus offering). He doesn't appear to need it, however, since he gets great results off of his two-seam and cutter. It appears that Peavy has adjusted for the drop in velocity by throwing the secondary offerings a bit more. His fastball has been hit well so far, but he's already thrown 61 changes after tossing under 250 last season.

Maybe hot: Delmon Young (not sure if 3-13 means he might be hot, but he does have a homer), Jonny Gomes (2 HR in 17 PA, 1.145 OPS)

Maybe not: J.J. Hardy (1 hit in 20 PA, .318 OPS), A.J. Pierzynski (.650 OPS, 20 PA)

Monday, 21 April (11:05am) - Wei-Yin Chen vs. Clay Buchholz
2014 Stats Chen (2-1)
Buchholz (0-1)
IP 17.0 16.1
ERA 4.76 5.51
FIP 2.76 4.95
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .351/.368/.459 .351/.377/.568

Game notes: It's hard to rate Chen's performance so far this season. He's allowed a lot of hits in three starts (26), but he's minimized the damage in each and has avoided walking batters. Chen does not have good career numbers against Boston and they get worse at Fenway. The Red Sox lineup knocked him around for 12 hits earlier in the season. His generally solid out-pitches, especially his changeup, haven't been sharp early on because he's not throwing them for strikes. His most recent start against Tampa, however, is reason for optimism, as he gave up just 5 hits in 6.2 innings (1 earned run).

A reason to watch: Considering the game is at 11am on a Monday, it's not likely you will be. You've got to love the excellent scheduling of a 7pm game followed by an 11am game. Thanks, ESPN. Maybe the goal was to get Chris Davis back on the mound...

Scouting report: Buchholz got off to a blistering start in 2013 before an injury knocked him out, although that's pretty much the story of his career. There have been some early concerns regarding his velocity in 2014 - for a guy who regularly hits 92-93, he's been sitting at about 90 this season. His cutter was virtually unhittable last season, but it just hasn't gotten there yet in 2014. Additionally, batters have simply feasted on his four-seam fastball to the tune of a 1.797 OPS. Control has never been a strong suit for Buchholz, but he's actually throwing more strikes this season. Batters seem to have noticed this as well and they're swinging at a lot more of his pitches. He traditionally combines a four-seam/cutter combo with a change and curve. He also throws, albeit far less often, a two-seam and splitter. He can throw virtually any of his pitches to get the punchout, but he's had to rely on the curveball and changeup for strikeouts this season.

Maybe hot: Adam Jones (2 HR, 3 2B, 34 PA, .828 OPS), Dustin Pedroia (4 2B, 1 3B, 24 PA, 1.314 OPS)

Maybe not: Nick Markakis (.408 OPS, 44 PA), David Ross (.692 OPS, 13 PA)