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Orioles-Red Sox series preview: A team on the upswing

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The last time the Orioles faced the Red Sox, they split four games in Fenway.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

It is with deep regret that I inform you that the 2019 Red Sox are probably not bad any more. When last the Orioles left this team, the Sox were 6-11 and dealing with a variety of disappointments on their roster. Like once happened with fried chicken and beer, certain people decided to blame the players playing Fortnite in the clubhouse. All ingredients were in place for a season of hilarious failure.

Recently, the Red Sox have started winning. They’re 10-5 over their last 15 games, enough to claw them to within a game of being .500 again. Their hitters have started hitting and their starters have been pitching better, perhaps showing that the “They had light workloads in spring training to recover from last postseason” theory of their early April struggles had some merit.

There is still going to be ground for Boston to make up to get themselves back into the playoff picture. They trail the division-leading Rays by five games and the second-place Yankees by three games. With 175 runs scored and allowed, the Red Sox have a run differential of zero. I predict that will no longer be the case when this series ends.

There remains room for improvement. The Red Sox rotation has the 7th-worst ERA in MLB at 4.96. An early disaster of a bullpen has settled down into a middle-of-the-pack 4.26 ERA, though every blown late lead is a reminder of their own free agent they didn’t sign: Craig Kimbrel, who no one has yet signed.

The O’s are 4-11 at home to start off the season. It’s bad. The Red Sox are 9-11 on the road.

Game 1 - Monday, 7:05

Starting pitchers

  • Josh Smith: (one game pitched in 2019)
  • John Means: 8 G, 4 GS, 25.2 IP, 2.81 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 1.169 WHIP, 25 SO, 7 BB

There’s something about the Orioles facing a 31-year-old journeyman getting pressed into a spot start on short notice that always portends disaster. Smith has made nine starts in 69 games of a big league career that’s spanned three teams. He has a 5.26 ERA overall. Smith had been starting for Triple-A Pawtucket, so the Red Sox are probably hoping he can at least go for five innings and not have this turn into a whole bullpen game.

As a team, the Red Sox are batting .247/.320/.435 against left-handed pitchers. They’ll face one in Means tonight. That’s the sixth-best OPS among AL clubs. and Boston batters have smashed 13 home runs against lefties so far, second-most in the AL.

Means has faced these Red Sox already this season, a loss on April 14. He allowed just one run on four hits and a walk in five innings as the O’s batters were shut out. With more run support and a similar pitching line, perhaps he can get a win this time around.

Over the first month or so, Means has been one of the more intriguing on the team in the sense that he’s someone fans can actually hope might be a decent find to keep around for the next good Orioles team. Eight games and four starts is a small sample size, though, and he’s got a long way to show that he could be a long-term fixture. Hopefully he can show a little more of that tonight.

Game 2 - Tuesday, 7:05

Starting pitchers

  • David Price: 6 GS, 36 IP, 3.75 ERA, 3.45 FIP, 1.139 WHIP, 42 SO, 10 BB
  • David Hess: 7 G, 6 GS, 30.1 IP, 5.34 ERA, 6.01 FIP, 1.203 WHIP, 22 SO, 9 BB

There was a time not too long ago when the Orioles had a series where they faced multiple Cy Young-winning pitchers on the other team and they got a sweep. It is not 2014 any more. Nelson Cruz is not walking through that door. Neither is the Tigers bullpen. The 2019 O’s must find their own way to win against Price, and in the game after this, Chris Sale.

Unlike the Red Sox, the 2019 O’s are not a particularly good-hitting team against lefty pitchers. They are batting just .249/.305/.382 so far. Mind you, the team isn’t hitting very well against righties either. They’ve drawn the fewest walks of any AL team to date. Price was the Boston pitcher in that April 14 game and he held the O’s to four hits and no runs in seven innings.

Hess faced the Red Sox on April 12, also a loss, though Hess pitched decently, allowing three runs on six hits in 5.2 innings. His problem is that in the three games since, he’s given up 11 earned runs in 11.1 innings, including back-to-back poor outings against the woeful White Sox.

Game 3 - Wednesday, 7:05

Starting pitchers

  • Chris Sale: 7 GS, 36 IP, 5.25 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 1.278 WHIP, 42 SO, 11 BB
  • Andrew Cashner: 7 GS, 36.1 IP, 4.71 ERA, 4.99 FIP, 1.459 WHIP, 28 SO, 15 BB

After getting bombed for seven runs in three innings in his season-opening start, Sale has a 3.82 ERA in the six starts since. His last three starts are an even better trend, with a 2.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 18 innings. He’s headed in the right direction, and let’s be honest, the O’s are probably the team to face to keep going in the right direction.

I don’t feel like saying anything about Cashner, so I’m going to instead remark on three Red Sox batters who are hitting atrociously. Eduardo Nunez is just recently back from the injured list, and so far this season he has a .447 OPS. Former Oriole Steve Pearce is slumming even lower than that with a .334 OPS. And center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has been playing most every day while batting .155/.245/.186.

The Orioles being the Orioles, any one of these three guys could fly away from Baltimore in three nights with five more home runs added to their 2019 totals. Or even if all of them continue being bad, other Sox hitters who are doing well this year, like Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, could hit five dingers apiece in the next three games.

**

For as much as the Sox got battered early on for some bullpen meltdowns when they passed on Kimbrel, they’ve settled into having a solid quartet in their bullpen. Closer Ryan Brasier came almost out of nowhere last year and is sitting pretty with a 0.929 WHIP through 15 games pitched.

Relievers Brandon Workman, Marcus Walden, and Matt Barnes are also sitting with WHIPs under 1 and the highest ERA among any of these four guys is Brasier’s 2.57. It’s impressive that Workman has a WHIP under 1 considering that he’s walked 13 men in 15.2 innings. Barnes has been particularly ridiculous with 26 strikeouts in 13 innings.

Boston is a team that’s had some big flaws to date. They seem like a team that is in the process of working out those flaws. Maybe the O’s can do something to change that narrative in this series... but probably not.

Stats retrieved from Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and ESPN.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Red Sox?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    0 (The Orioles get swept)
    (18 votes)
  • 55%
    1
    (68 votes)
  • 17%
    2
    (21 votes)
  • 13%
    3 (The Orioles sweep the Red Sox)
    (16 votes)
123 votes total Vote Now