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Orioles-Red Sox series preview: Little League Classic to cap off key series in Wild Card race

After two in Baltimore, the O’s and Sawx head to Williamsport with both teams looking to make up ground in their pursuits of a playoff spot.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox
Dean Kremer will look to (hopefully) cap off a series win in Williamsport on Sunday vs. the Red Sox
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

This Sunday, the Orioles take on the Red Sox in the 2022 edition of the MLB Little League Classic in Williamsport, PA. Yes, they also play two games against the Sawx in Baltimore, but let us focus on the showdown in Williamsport for a moment. This is the fifth version of the annual MLB showcase that started in 2017 (there was no game in 2020 due to the pandemic). This will be the first time the game features a match-up of two AL East and only the second time that the game won’t involve one of the two Pennsylvania-based teams.

While it is certainly an honor for the Orioles to be included in the special event, the game also carries an ominous history when it comes to the participants and the playoffs. Through the first four Little League Classics, none of the eight participating teams went on to make a playoff appearance that same season. While both the Orioles and the Red Sox will almost certainly go into the Classic on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture, they will both feel that a win in Williamsport could prove big in their hopes of playing into October.

One disappointing factor going into the game is the fact that neither the Orioles nor Red Sox will receive a special alternate jersey specifically to use for the Little League Classic. This will be the first time that MLB is not rolling out Little League World Series-inspired jerseys for the Classics’ participants and—as someone continually irked by the fact that the Orioles do not yet have a City Connect jersey—this bums me out.

Now onto the other two games taking place at Camden Yards this weekend. Believe it or not, this will only be the second series between the Orioles and Red Sox at the Yard this year. The Orioles took the first series two games to one, with the Orioles offense bludgeoning Nick Pivetta and the Red Sox to the tune of 13 hits in a 9-5 win. That series win is what separates the two teams on the season series so far, as the O’s and Sawx have split the games in Boston three apiece.

Most recently, in a one-off game at Fenway, the Orioles lost 4-3 after mounting a valiant comeback to tie it from down 3-0. All of these games against Boston may be coming at the right time for an Orioles offense that can’t seem to keep itself consistently firing on all cylinders. On the season, the O’s are averaging 5.1 runs per game against Boston and the team OPS is 49 points higher when facing the Red Sox. Now, on to the pitching matchups!

Game 1: Friday 7:05pm ET, MASN

Starting Pitchers: Jordan Lyles (9-9, 4.48 ERA) vs. Kutter Crawford (3-4, 4.18 ERA)

The numbers for de facto ace Jordan Lyles against the Red Sox this season are… let’s just say odd. The good news is that Lyles sports a respectable 3.48 ERA in 10.1 innings against Boston, and has yet to allow a home run to the boys from Beantown. The less-than-good news is that the Red Sox are still hitting .364 (second best of any Lyles opponent) with a .897 OPS (third best)—not to mention the 1.94 WHIP Lyles has against Boston. So basically, Lyles has allowed a ton of baserunners when facing the Red Sox, but has been relatively good at limiting damage. So, yay?

The good news is that Lyles was much better facing the Red Sox at Camden Yards than he was in his start at Fenway. In that aforementioned 9-5 win, Lyle went six strong innings, limiting Boston to one run and punching out seven. This coincides with Lyles’ general trend for 2022 that has seen his home ERA come in more than three runs lower than his road ERA—despite relatively similar WHIP and BAA numbers in and away from OPACY. It’s in front of the Birdland faithful that the Hartsville, SC, native truly becomes the Hartsville Houdini when it comes to escaping jams unscathed. Hopefully, that means the Orioles will have enough time to get their offense up and running on Friday.

The man who will try to keep that offense stuck in first gear for the Red Sox will be Kutter Crawford. The good news for the Baltimore offense is that Crawford has literally never gotten an out against the Orioles. He made his only ever appearance against the O’s in that same 9-5 win back in May, giving up a home run to Rougned Odor and walking Jorge Mateo before being pulled. So while it may be a (very) small sample size, it’s always nice to face a pitcher who has an ERA of infinity against you.

Crawford (who does in fact rely heavily on a cutter) has shown improvement in his five starts since the All-Star break, posting a 3.77 ERA and a .218 BAA in 28.2 innings. He was able to shut down the AL-best Houston Mancinis Astros back on August 2, so maybe the Infinity ERA is a bit misleading relative to his overall skill. Still, the matchup with Crawford presents a chance for the Orioles' offense to start the series on the right foot.

Game 2: Saturday, 4:05pm ET, MASN

Starting Pitchers: Kyle Bradish (1-4, 6.38 ERA) vs. Michael Wacha (7-1, 2.44 ERA)

If you were hyping up this matchup UFC or WWE style, you might call this the “Cardinal Killer vs. the Former Cardinal” —and honestly, that is probably the only way to even attempt to spin this in Bradish’s favor. After all, the rookie right-hander has constantly been chasing the form that saw him strike out 11 Cardinals over seven innings in his third-ever major league start. More often than not, Bradish has come up well short of that mark. While Bradish’s four-seamer no longer has the distinction of being the “worst pitch in baseball” (based on Run-Value), Bradish still needs to show better fastball location if he wants to find success this weekend against Boston.

In his last outing vs. the Red Sox, three four-seamers thrown right over the heart of the plate turned into rocket singles from Rafael Devers, Enrique Hernandez and Alex Verdugo. Those, along with some hanging sliders, led to a four-run first inning and ultimately saw Bradish leave the start with more runs surrendered (six) than outs recorded (five). While the Orioles ultimately came back to win that game 12-8, this offense would surely appreciate not having to bail Bradish out of an early six-run deficit. Bradish’s only other start against Boston was in his major league debut—in which he went six innings and allowed three runs (two earned). If the O’s get that Bradish Saturday evening, Birdland will feel good about their chances to win.

On the other side, Wacha has completely flipped his script after a disastrous one-year stint in Tampa during the 2021 season. Last year in four starts against the Orioles, Wacha was roughed up to the tune of a 5.51 ERA, 21 hits allowed in 16.1 innings and a .979 OPS against. In Camden Yards those numbers were even worse. Therefore, perhaps the secret to Wacha’s turnaround in 2022 is that he has yet to face the Orioles.

Muscle injuries to his shoulder and chest meant that Wacha has only made one start for the Red Sox since the end of June. That start did see him throw seven shutout innings last Sunday against the Yankees in Fenway. Starts outside of Boston have usually seen Wacha become much more hittable, as his ERA rises from a minuscule 1.14 at home to 3.79 on the road. That trend combined with his career 5.84 ERA at Camden Yards suggests that maybe, just maybe, this matchup won’t as lopsided as some numbers suggest.

Game 3: Sunday, 7:00 pm ET, ESPN

Starting Pitchers: Dean Kremer (5-4, 3.58 ERA) vs. Nick Pivetta (9-9, 4.28)

Kremer will be the first to take the mound in Williamsport on Sunday, as he looks to turn in his best-ever start against the Red Sox. To be fair, that is a low bar to clear for Kremer, as Boston has consistently proven to be the worst matchup for the righty in his young career. In three previous starts, Kremer is 0-3 against Beantown with a 9.45 ERA and 18 hits allowed across 13.1 innings.

If you are looking for a silver lining, Kremer’s one career start against the Red Sox at home, back in 2021, was the best of his three showings against the AL East rival. Kremer only allowed three runs that day and pitched into the sixth inning, keeping the Orioles afloat in a game they ultimately lost 4-3. While Sunday’s game is a “home” game only in the sense that the Orioles will be batting second, it should do Kremer well to face the Red Sox outside the pressure cooker that is Fenway Park.

The showdown with the Sawx will also be the first time that Kremer has had an opportunity to face Boston more than once in a season. While facing hitters more and more times does not always necessarily yield better results for pitchers, having a sense of familiarity with this Red Sox lineup could provide a confidence boost for Kremer.

Pivetta’s 6-2 career record against the Orioles with the Red Sox shows that he’s consistently been a thorn in the Orioles’ wings (we’ll pretend that metaphor makes sense) since he joined Boston in 2020. However, as mentioned at the top of the article, he was the losing pitcher in that 9-5 O’s win back in May. His track record in Camden Yards with Boston is also not stellar, as he has an ERA of 4.50 in 26 innings at OPACY as a member of the Sawx. Therefore this neutral field may prove to be a good thing for both starters, keeping both out of environments that have been none too friendly to them.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    0 (Sawx do the sweeping)
    (4 votes)
  • 13%
    1
    (19 votes)
  • 60%
    2
    (84 votes)
  • 23%
    3 (O’s do the sweeping)
    (33 votes)
140 votes total Vote Now