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Orioles-Red Sox series preview: The O’s face the reeling defending champs

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One of these clubs heads into the series in last place. It’s not the one you might think.

MLB: Game Two-Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles, losers of seven of their last eight and widely expected to be the worst team in baseball, head to Boston to play four games in the home of the defending World Series champions. Sounds like a mismatch, right?

Well, hold on just a second. Have you noticed how incredibly awful the Red Sox have been?

Despite their walkoff win over the Blue Jays last night, the Red Sox carry a meager 4-9 record into the series, sitting in last place in the AL East. They’re already six games behind the division-leading Rays.

It should be noted that the Sox faced a rough opening schedule in 2019, starting the season with an 11-game West Coast road trip before making their Fenway debut earlier this week. A single tear streams down my face, so upset am I at the baseball gods who would treat the poor Red Sox with such cruelty.

It’s not difficult to find the main source of Boston’s troubles. Their starting rotation, which was pegged to be one of their greatest strengths, has been uniformly disastrous. All five of their starters, which include two Cy Young winners and Chris Sale, have an ERA of 6.00 or worse. Their rotation ERA of 8.79 is the worst in the majors by a significant margin. They’ve thrown just one quality start all season. Even the Orioles have two! And no Sox starting pitcher has a win yet this year.

Their ace, Sale, has been the worst of the lot. The 30-year-old lefty, who just signed a five-year, $145 million contract extension this winter, has lost all three starts and has an ERA of 9.00. After his latest dud, Sale told the media, “I don’t know if I’ve ever pitched like this in my life.” His velocity was down early, and he hasn’t been getting the sharp movement on his slider he normally does. It didn’t take long for Sale to get booed by the Fenway faithful when he gave up five runs during the Red Sox home opener.

The Boston bullpen’s been a bit better, led by Ryan Brasier (1.50 ERA, two saves), Matt Barnes (1.80, one save), and Brandon Workman (six scoreless appearances). At the plate, J.D. Martinez is continuing to destroy opposing pitchers like he did in 2018, batting .327/.411/.551 with three homers, while Mitch Moreland has been unexpectedly hot, leading the team with five homers and 12 RBIs. They’ve helped offset early-season struggles by Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rafael Devers, among others.

The Red Sox are a talented crew, having brought back nearly the same entire roster that won it all in 2018. They could turn things around at any moment, and this weekend might be as good a time as any. That rotation, though, needs to get its act together,

Game 1: Friday, 7:10 PM

RHP David Hess (1-1, 2.70) vs. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (0-2, 12.38)

Hess’s 6.1-inning no-hitter in Toronto was the best start of the year for any Orioles pitcher, but he backslid with a mediocre five-inning, four-run outing against the Yankees on Sunday. Hess made two starts against the Red Sox last season and coughed up five runs in each of them, failing to make it through the fifth inning in either. He was also smoked for five home runs, including two apiece by Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez.

It’s been a brutal start to 2019 for Rodriguez, the ex-Orioles farmhand who’s now in his fifth season with the Red Sox but just turned 26 this week. In his first start of the year, in Seattle, Rodriguez was torched for six runs, eight hits, and three walks in 4.1 innings. The next time out, in Oakland, Rodriguez again gave up six runs and eight hits and three walks, but this time he got two fewer outs. He’s been nothing if not consistent.

Rodriguez is facing a familiar opponent. He’s pitched against the Orioles more than any other big league team, with 13 career starts (and two relief appearances) versus Baltimore. He’s 6-5 with a 3.74 career ERA in those games. Rodriguez has torn up Chris Davis, who’s 5-for-27 with 14 strikeouts against him, as if the O’s needed more reason to keep Chris Davis out of the lineup. But Trey Mancini (.300 average, .833 OPS, one homer) and Joey Rickard (.333/.975 and a homer) have fared well off Rodriguez.

Game 2: Saturday, 1:05 PM

RHP Andrew Cashner (2-1, 5.28) vs. RHP Rick Porcello (0-2, 13.50)

Cashner has run the gamut in his three starts this year, from horrible (four innings, six runs on Opening Day) to mediocre (5.1 innings, three earned runs April 8) to impressive (six shutout innings April 2). Somehow, Cashner made it through the entire 2018 season without facing the Red Sox at all. The last time he faced them was as a Ranger in July 2017, when he tossed a quality start. No Red Sock has more than six plate appearances against him.

Porcello, three years removed from winning the AL Cy Young, gave up seven or more runs in each of his first two outings, both on the road. I would say perhaps a return to Fenway would do him good, but Porcello actually pitched much worse at home than on the road last year (4.77 vs. 3.86 ERA). He also hasn’t fared well historically against the Orioles, going 6-11 with a 4.62 ERA in 20 starts, but of course most of those O’s lineups looked very different from this year’s. The only frequent Porcello opponent still remaining is Davis, who is batting .200 but with four homers in 52 PAs against him.

Game 3: Sunday, 1:05 PM

LHP John Means (1-1, 2.08) vs. LHP David Price (0-1, 6.00)

Means’ first major league start this past Tuesday wasn’t as bad as the box score line indicated. Of the five runs he gave up, only one was earned, thanks to a costly Hanser Alberto error. And the rally was set up by a cavalcade of cheap infield hits. Good enough for a second look, I suppose. Means is returning to the site where he made his major league debut last September, when he gave up five runs in 3.1 innings of relief in a 19-3 Red Sox rout. Martinez tagged him for a three-run homer that day.

Price has made two starts apiece of six innings and four earned runs, which is practically award-worthy compared to the rest of the Sox rotation. He hasn’t lost to the Orioles since 2016, and beat them in all three of his starts last season, during which he racked up 24 strikeouts. He, like Rodriguez and Porcello, will be making his 2019 Fenway debut. Davis and Mancini have each taken him yard twice in their careers, in just 16 PAs in Mancini’s case.

Game 4: Monday, 11:05 AM

RHP Dan Straily (0-1, 19.29) vs. LHP Chris Sale (0-3, 9.00)

I hope you like weekday morning baseball, because the Orioles have once again been roped into the annual Patriots’ Day game in Boston. It’s the fourth time in the last six years the O’s have gotten the assignment, although last year’s scheduled contest was rained out.

I detailed Sale’s struggles above, but still, he’s Chris Sale. Chances are he’s going to figure it out. And he’s facing the right team to spark a turnaround, what with his career 7-2 record, 2.69 ERA and 12.7 strikeout rate against the Orioles. He faced the O’s four times last year, more than any other team, and struck out 37 batters in 20.2 innings while posting a 2.18 ERA. Look for Davis to take a seat on the bench, considering he’s 2-for-22 with nine strikeouts lifetime against Sale, while Mancini is an impressive 7-for-19.

On the Orioles’ side, Straily has not quite endeared himself to Birdland, getting tattooed for 10 runs in his first 4.2 innings. Having spent his recent years in the NL, Straily hasn’t faced the Red Sox since 2015, but hasn’t made it through the fifth inning in either of his two career starts against them. Only Mitch Moreland has more than five PAs against Straily, going 1-for-15 with six walks.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this series?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    4 (Orioles will sweep!)
    (18 votes)
  • 8%
    3
    (16 votes)
  • 28%
    2
    (55 votes)
  • 38%
    1
    (74 votes)
  • 15%
    0 (Orioles will get swept)
    (30 votes)
193 votes total Vote Now