Only two seasons ago, the Boston Red Sox were winners of 108 regular season games and from there they went on to win the World Series. We now know that they were cheating that entire season that they won. This fact will have very little bearing in a baseball sense on the opening series of the 2020 season (except that the Red Sox changed managers because they had hired someone who also cheated with the Astros) but for a dedicated Orioles partisan, there is never a bad occasion to point out the plain truth: The Red Sox were a bunch of cheating cheaters who cheated.
The 2020 Red Sox are not exactly the same bunch of dudes who O’s fans have come to know and dislike in recent years. They will be without the services of the guy who was their best player every year since 2015, Mookie Betts, as their ownership chose to be cheap rather than try to keep the superstar. This does sound familiar for O’s fans. The result is that they traded Betts to the Dodgers, where he just signed a mega-extension.
As Betts has batted .299/.390/.543 in his 96 career games against the Orioles, including 20 home runs, O’s fans won’t be too sad that Betts has signed with an NL West team for the next 13 seasons. He will be out of sight and out of mind except for at most four games every three seasons. Unless, you know, the Orioles and Dodgers play each other in the World Series some time during that 13-year contract.
It’s not only the absence of Betts that will make this team feel different. David Price, a Red Sock since 2016, was also dealt to the Dodgers in that Betts trade. Rick Porcello, who had been there since 2015, became a free agent and signed with the Mets. Chris Sale, a big-ticket trade acquisition before the 2017 season, will miss the season and then some due to Tommy John surgery. Even former Orioles farmhand Eduardo Rodriguez will be absent for the beginning of the season as he completes his COVID-19 recovery.
That’s nearly a whole rotation worth of turnover. Things are so in flux for the Boston rotation that our sister site Over The Monster posted the Red Sox Opening Day roster and only listed three starting pitchers. The three listed are jabronis and then there are two swingmen or guys who could/should follow an opener after that.
The three “locked in” starters are the ones the O’s will face: Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez, and Ryan Weber. Of these three, Perez, the Saturday starter, is the only lefty, so we’ll probably get a sense of what manager Brandon Hyde’s regular lineup against both righties and lefties will look like over the first couple of games.
Maybe with a 30-man roster, there will be constant tinkering and mixing and matching to get everyone some playing time. And all of this speculation is made assuming that the news that Nationals outfielder Juan Soto has tested positive for COVID-19 doesn’t lead to the O’s roster picture being tossed into disarray, since the O’s played Soto and the Nationals in exhibitions on both Monday and Tuesday.
These difficulties do not have the Red Sox expected to join the Orioles in the basement of the league. Three big sites with projections, Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, and FiveThirtyEight, all forecast a 30-30 record for Boston this season.
It must be nice to have all of that drama and “only” have everyone think you’re a .500 team. The Red Sox have only had three seasons with a sub-.500 record in the 21st century. After yesterday’s 11th hour agreement to expand the postseason to sixteen teams, eight in each league, even a .500 team has a decent shot at competing for a playoff spot, and once they get into the party, who knows what might happen?
Working in the Red Sox favor is that there is probably still a pretty good lineup in the absence of Betts. They are returning three players who posted at least a .900 OPS in 2019: Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez. Mitch Moreland (.835 OPS) and Christian Vasquez (.798 OPS) are also back, and they’re plugging in their key trade piece in that Betts deal, Alex Verdugo, (.817 OPS) as well.
Add to that the standard Red Sox dark magic that lets them summon amazing performance from someone who few people would have predicted to do so well, and it seems like they’ll be fine - certainly plenty fine to rough up an Orioles starting trio of Tommy Milone, Alex Cobb, and Wade LeBlanc and an Orioles bullpen with a number of guys whose only route to being in MLB was being in the Orioles bullpen.
Series scheduled games
Friday, July 24, 7:35pm
Starters: Tommy Milone (BAL), Nathan Eovaldi (BOS)
As the season gets underway, Eovaldi is the only holdover from last year’s Red Sox rotation, and even then he only started 12 games. That’s because he missed May and June after having surgery to remove “loose bodies” from his pitching elbow, and when he came back, he pitched out of the bullpen for a while. For the season, he had a 5.99 ERA.
Saturday, July 25, 1:35pm
Starters: Alex Cobb (BAL), Martin Perez (BOS)
If you know the name Martin Perez, you probably remember him from his seven years with the Rangers from 2012-19. He departed there as a free agent and signed with the Twins last year, where he pitched to a 5.12 ERA in 32 games. His 2020 opponents will probably be tougher than his 2019 opponents, though since he’s getting his first start out of the way against the Orioles, it could be worse for him.
Sunday, July 26, 1:35pm
Starters: Wade LeBlanc (BAL), Ryan Weber (BOS)
Weber was a 22nd round pick by the Braves in 2009. Since debuting with Atlanta in 2015, he’s bounced from there to Seattle to Tampa to the Red Sox. Weber pitched 18 games for Boston last year, mostly in relief. A career MLB ERA over 5 in 114.1 innings probably explains why he’s bounced around so much. He can get that career ERA under 5 if he pitches at least five innings and holds the Orioles to two or fewer runs.
Note the 7:35 start time for the Friday night game. This is something that O’s fans will have to get used to as the 2020 season moves along because the Orioles will be starting home games at this time as well. The rationale is apparently that, with no concern for whether fans will be less likely to attend a game that starts later, it’s better for TV networks to begin the games later so more of the game takes place during “prime time” for ratings purposes.
Everyone would agree that the Orioles were not a very good baseball team last year. Even so, they won their first two series of the season, which turned out to be the high point for them. One of those series was against the Yankees on the road, and the Yankees were definitely much, much better than the Orioles were. It is probably the case here that the Red Sox are better than the Orioles, which guarantees them nothing.
They still have to show up and play better in these strange conditions in 2020, where the only crowd noise is fake, where all sorts of rules are a little different, and where things could get weird over 60 games.
How many games will the Orioles win in their season-opening series against the Red Sox?
This poll is closed
3 (The Orioles sweep the Red Sox)
0 (The Orioles are swept by the Red Sox)