Playing the role of “spoiler” in mid-August is not what a team sets out to do when they assemble for spring training ahead of a grueling six-month season. Unfortunately, it is a role in which many of the Oriole teams in my lifetime have become quite familiar. To be honest, though, there aren’t many seasons that stick out in which the O’s actually did much to impact the playoff race.
That is with the exception of 2011, of course. That was the year where the Red Sox came to Camden Yards for the final series of the season and simply needed to take 2-out-of-3 against a last-place team to punch their ticket to the postseason. Instead, the O’s won the series, including a walk-off winner in Game 162, to put an exclamation point on the campaign. The series at Fenway this weekend does not have stakes quite that high, but it’s important nonetheless.
The Red Sox are in freefall. Over their last 14 games, the team is 3-11. They have gone from a 2.5-game lead in the AL East on July 29 to now trailing the Tampa Bay Rays by five games. If the playoffs started today, they would make it, but only by the skin of their teeth, and it would be as the second wild card team. That’s not a position that a team with paper thin pitching wants to find itself.
It would seem that Boston has this weekend in mind to get them “back on track.” Chris Sale will make his season debut following Tommy John surgery. Alex Verdugo should be back from the paternity list, and it sounds like Kyle Schwarber has a chance to make his Red Sox debut at some point this weekend, although he is yet to even have a rehab assignment, and has been out of action for more than a month.
Game 1: Friday, August 13th, 7:10 p.m., MASN
Spenser Watkins (2-3, 4.22 ERA) vs. Nick Pivetta (8-5, 4.34 ERA)
At the very least, the Orioles have been able to depend on Spenser Watkins for a little length in his recent starts. Watkins has thrown 11.2 total innings over his last two outings. He has also allowed eight earned runs in that time, so it’s not perfect, but it still makes him one of the better starting pitchers on this roster.
Nick Pivetta was locked in for his most recent start. He held the powerful Blue Jays lineup to just one hit and no runs while striking out five over six innings. The 28-year-old righty has had some trouble pitching at home this year, though. His ERA is 5.80 at Fenway, and much of that can be attributed to the 12 home runs he has allowed over 54.1 innings pitched. The stadium is a bandbox, so the O’s could do well to swing for the fences.
Game 2: Saturday, August 14h, 4:10 p.m., MASN
Jorge López (3-12, 5.75 ERA) vs. Chris Sale (2021 debut)
Going off just pure stuff, Jorge López may be the best pitcher in the Orioles rotation. He can light up a radar gun, and there are outings where he looks like a legitimate starting pitching option. He has done that twice in a row now, tossing six innings of one-run ball against the Yankees and then six innings of two-run ball against the Rays. He’s faced the Red Sox twice this season, and the results have been mixed. The first time he got shelled to the tune of seven runs over four innings in April. The next time he faced them in May was much better: 5.2 innings, one run.
The Red Sox’s hopes of a deep playoff run sit on the elbow of Chris Sale. He will need to be somewhat close to the dominant starter he was prior to 2019 if this team is going to beat playoff-caliber clubs in a long series. The lanky lefty made five rehab starts, with the most recent coming on August 7, when he went 4.2 innings at Triple-A. Unless he is absolutely cruising (which is possible), then one would imagine that Alex Cora hopes to get five innings out of Sale here and then turns to the bullpen.
Game 3: Sunday, August 15th, 1:10 p.m., MASN
TBA vs. Eduardo Rodriguez (8-6, 5.24 ERA)
Eduardo Rodriguez must have hit the reset button at the All-Star break as his ERA has been a run-and-a-half lower in the second half. The lefty has faced his former parent club twice this year and has been rather effective, allowing four runs over 10 total innings between the two games.
It’s sounding like Bruce Zimmermann will be on the bump here. He has been on the IL since mid-June, but looked quite good in his most recent rehab start on August 10. The Orioles’ rotation could use the steady hand of the lefty, but the bullpen should be on standby as it wouldn’t make sense for Brandon Hyde to push him too far, and Zimmermann only threw 55 pitches to get through five innings for Norfolk in his last outing.
How many games will the Orioles win in this series?
This poll is closed
3 (O’s sweep)
0 (O’s get swept)