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Orioles vs. Red Sox: Series Preview

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The Orioles look to gain more ground in the AL East as they head to Boston for a three game series

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far:

The Orioles have been playing pretty well lately. They're 36-33 and in fourth place in the division. Fourth place may not sound great, but it's only 2.5 games out of a first, which makes this division race the most competitive so far. For reference, only two of the other five divisions have a second place team less than 2.5 games back, and no other division has a fourth place team less than 5 games behind.

After a five game losing streak that started against Tampa Bay and stretched into that series in Houston, they're 13-4, outscoring their opponents by 49 runs in those 17 games. It's been all on offense too...their RA/G average has decreased only 0.26 while their RS/G average has increased by 0.48. They've also only had a starting pitcher go seven innings once in that span, necessitating all the pitching moves that have been made lately. For those hoping for a repeat of last season, its worth noting that through 69 games last year they were only 35-34 and five games out of first place. It's hard to tell though if their competition this season is any tougher. If I remember right, it was the Blue Jays leading the division at this point last year, with the Yankees kind of hanging in there seemingly because of luck due to their negative run differential. The Rays and Red Sox were basically done. Now it looks like the Rays, Blue Jays and Yankees could all be legit contenders. The Red Sox are still bad though, which makes this some good timing.

Last time the O's saw the Red Sox they had just swept them in three games in Baltimore, which was the start of a seven game losing streak that all but ended their season. Since then though they've won four out of seven against the Braves and the Royals. I suppose they still have a chance to turn it around though with this series kicking off 10 straight games in the division. As a team that was favored to win the division before the season started, you can't count them out before we even reach the all-star break - but things aren't looking good (for them...they look very good for us).

Pitching Matchups:

Tuesday: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Joe Kelly

2015

W/L

IP

ERA+

FIP

WHIP

SO/W

Jimenez

5-3

74.1

120

3.43

1.278

3.08

Kelly

2-4

71.0

74

4.02

1.437

2.00

I wrote in my preview before Jimenez's last start that he needed to show something better than he had over the last month. He mostly did. He went 6.2 innings without giving up a walk and striking out eight. Those three earned runs were a problem, but it still counts as a quality start. (Note: The definition of a quality start is one of those things I feel like you can use to make an argument for someone when you want, but also use against someone if you wanted too - it's a weird bar to set and I'm fully aware of it). Regardless, not giving up any walks will be a mark of success for Jimenez at any point this year after his 2014 season. He didn't do that in his only other start against Boston this year, though he was pitching a no-hitter in 3.2 innings before being ejected in one of the more ridiculous ump shows I've seen this year.

Joe Kelly has been, well...not who the Red Sox expected coming into this year. Then again, no one on their rotation has. In a strange twist, his only other start against the Orioles was in that same game I mentioned above with Jimenez. He only made it through 5.2 innings before the Orioles would go on to win 3-2. After an atrocious month of May where Kelly went 0-4 and raised his ERA almost a full point, he's been better in June, but still not great. He got his first win at Fenway Park of the year earlier this month against the A's. In a platoon reversal, right-handers are hitting much better against him this year. This might be a good game for Steve Pearce to find his way back into the lineup.

Wednesday: Bud Norris vs. Clay Buchholz

2015

W/L

IP

ERA+

FIP

WHIP

SO/W

Norris

2-5

44.0

52

4.79

1.636

1.88

Buchholz

4-6

86.0

102

2.81

1.291

3.82

It must be killing Norris to be putting up these kind of numbers in a contract year. After his 2014, he probably thought he'd be line for a nice payday this offseason...I kind of feel bad for him. He's at best a team's #4 starter, but he genuinely seems like a good guy who probably deserves better than this. He took the loss in his last start at Philly, but he only got one run of support. And in his three starts since coming off the DL he's gotten 14 strikeouts while only giving up four walks and two home runs. And hey, his ERA is well into the single digits now, which wasn't true after that first month. Like most pitchers, he'll want to lookout for Dustin Pedroia in this game, who's 5 for 13 including three doubles against him, with six walks. The good news is that Norris' only other start against the Sox this year was that 18-7 beatdown the O's handed them back in April.

Quick: Is Clay Buchholz (two h's) a good pitcher? You'd probably say no, but how can you tell? He was an All-Star twice in his career. In one of those years (2010) he led the league in ERA+ with 187 and in another he had a 1.74 ERA in 16 starts. His career ERA of 3.92 about lines up with his career FIP (3.95). The Red Sox must go crazy trying to figure this guy out. This year you could argue he's been the #1 guy for Boston, but that isn't saying much. Like Kelly, June has been kinder to Buchholz, who's 2-0 with a 2.81 ERA. He wasn't bad in his lone start against the O's this season back in April, giving up two earned runs while striking out seven. The Red Sox still lost though. Maybe hot? J.J. Hardy, who's 7 for 19 with two home runs against him.

Thursday: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Eduardo Rodriguez

2015

W/L

IP

ERA+

FIP

WHIP

SO/W

Gonzalez

5-4

73.0

118

4.60

1.123

2.46

Rodriguez

3-1

31.2

127

3.45

1.042

2.45

The last time the Orioles faced Rodriguez, he was coming off two very good starts to kick off his major league career and we were all dreading him being a staple of the Red Sox rotation for years to come. That may still be true, but he's hardly been quite as good since then. Sure, he pitched six scoreless innings against the O's in that start, but the Red Sox still lost the game. In his next start he gave up NINE earned runs in 4.2 innings to the Blue Jays. He's also only struck out six in his last two starts, after getting 21 in the three starts prior to that. Who knows how he'll turn out down the road, but for now this is a guy who was pitching in Bowie before he got traded last year and was mostly called up because the Red Sox were desperate. It's still early.

Gonzalez looks to come off the DL for this game after getting a groin injury in his last start against the Red Sox. That was the same game Rodriguez pitched too, where the O's won 1-0 off what I'm pretty sure was a wild pitch to score the lone run. This will be his fourth start against the Red Sox this season, with his other two being kind of weak. But in his career at Fenway he's 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA, with maybe the key being only giving up two home runs over 30 innings pitched. Hanley Ramirez may be the worst left-fielder of all time defensively, but he can still hit and is 3 for 7 with two home runs against Gonzalez.

Other Notes:

- To be perfectly honest, outside of Camden Yards, my favorite park to watch a game might be Fenway. It's a great ballpark that has something going for it that just screams 'baseball' and there's nothing else in all of the MLB like the Green Monster. Of course, part of that could also be how well the Orioles play there. Since the start of 2012, they've only been shutout at Fenway once, are 21-11 there, and have scored five or more runs 14 times. They like to hit there, and that makes for fun baseball.

- Less than halfway through the season, and some people are already calling for the Red Sox to dump Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Ouch. It won't happen, but this should probably give you an idea of how bad things are looking for that team right now.

- Manny Machado has raised his BA from .270 at the end of May to .303 now, in only 19 games. In that time, his OPS is 1.061 with six home runs. This is obviously great, but his BAPIP over that span is .379. I'm optimistic, but don't be surprised if he starts cooling off a little

- In a similar boat with the Red Soxis Brock Holt, who's .368/.463/.603 in June. He doesn't have Manny's power (only one home run), but his BAPIP is a ridiculous .453. He may not start regressing this week, but it is coming.

- Between 2012 and 2014 Adam Jones only missed five games. He's missed six so far this year, but hopefully he can at least DH in this series. He's got 10 career home runs at Fenway, more than anyone else on the Orioles right now.

Prediction:

The Orioles continue to play well and shouldn't have too much of a problem against the last-place Red Sox. They'll win two out of three.