Red Sox’ title defense begins in Baltimore


Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Sox open defense of their 2013 World Series championship with a March 31-April 2 series against a familiar foe in American League East division rival Baltimore Orioles. Three games will be played over four days at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Orioles finished third in the division last season with an 85-77 record, scoring 745 runs compared to 709 runs allowed. The O’s were 46-35 at home and took the season series against the Red Sox 11-8. They are managed by Buck Showalter who, over a 16-year career with the Orioles, Texas Rangers, Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees, has compiled a 1163-1095 record for a .515 winning percentage.

The Orioles have been owned since 1993 by a group headed by 84-year-old trial lawyer Peter Angelos who is also the team’s CEO and chairman of the board. Their general manager is Dan Duquette, who held the same role with the Red Sox from 1994-2002.

In 2014, Baltimore is not a team to be taken lightly. The O’s boast a formidable squad with a powerful lineup. Led by the potent bats of Chris Davis, who was tops in the majors for HRs (53) and RBIs (138) last season, and Adam Jones (33 HRs, 108 RBIs), the team’s 2014 roster also includes Matt Wieters, Nelson Cruz and Manny Machado.

The Orioles’ 2014 rotation is highlighted by Chris Tillman, newcomer Ubaldo Jimenez, and Bud Norris. They have some young arms at the top of their farm system who could have an impact this season.

Baltimore traded closer Jim Johnson, who recorded 101 saves in over the last two seasons, to the Oakland Athletics in December 2012 and reneged (for medical reasons) on a deal with Grant Balfour to replace him. The role is likely falls for the most part to Tommy Hunter who has little closing experience.

The opening day (Monday,  3:05 p.m.) pitching matchup features the Jon Lester (LHP, 15-8, 3.75) vs. Chris Tillman (RHP, 16-7, 3.71). Expected pitchers for Wednesday (7:05 p.m.) are John Lackey (RHP, 10-13, 3.52) and Ubaldo Jimenez (RHP, 13-9, 3.30). Felix Doubront (LHP, 11-6, 4.32) is scheduled to face  Wei-Yin Chen (LHP, 7-7, 4.07) Thursday (7:05 p.m.).

To get a snapshot of the Orioles as they start their 2014 campaign, BoSox Injection tapped Domenic Vadala, editor of Fansided’s Birds Watcher site.

BSI: Baltimore may be the toughest team in the AL East to predict for 2014. The everyday lineup is arguably among the best in the division in terms of run-scoring ability, yet the pitching is a potential Achilles’ heel for the Orioles. How do you see the pitching staff taking shape and how much will the young arms of Kevin Gausman and/or Dylan Bundy be factors?

BW: Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez will anchor the pitching staff. I think that Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen will be in the rotation as well, and maybe Kevin Gausman. The fifth rotation spot is anybody’s guess. Bundy won’t be ready until later this summer. He’ll spend some time in the minors before coming to the big leagues. The Orioles also have Zach Britton on their roster, who is out of options. While you would hope that wouldn’t influence the starting rotation, it’s certainly possible that they give Britton the nod so as to avoid losing him and keep Gausman at triple-A so he can get consistent work.

BSI: The Orioles took the 2013 season series against the Red Sox (11-8), the only team in the division to do so. What was key to that success last year, and how will the O’s stack up against the Sox in 2014?

BW: The key to success against a team like Boston is simply scoring runs. The Orioles were very good at that in 2013. However Boston also has a lot of guys who simply throw strikes. Overall, they have a superior pitching staff. But the Orioles are known as free-swingers, and when you have pitchers that are used to mowing down the opposition by throwing strikes they can sometimes be suspect against free-swinging teams.

BSI: Baltimore came under a lot of fan and media scrutiny for some tepid “hot stove” season activity. Throughout Peter Angelos’ 20+ years of ownership, the Orioles have never seemed to have a vision and consistent strategy toward building a championship club, but have nevertheless assembled talent regularly to do so. Do you see an era of the Orioles being more than just contenders on the horizon?

BW: That can be very difficult to predict. Peter Angelos was a fairly hands-on owner for much of his first few years in Baltimore. That has changed a bit. Although he’s still involved, baseball people now make the lion’s share of decisions. It’s not so much about the names that are brought in, but the quality of the players and how they fit. David Lough might be one of the best acquisitions of this off-season, because he has speed on the base paths, he gets on base, and he’s a tough-nosed player. I think it’s too easy to say that the Orioles don’t make moves because the owner doesn’t want to do so. I think that the owner expects a return on his investment when he spends money, which is why in the case of this off-season the Orioles didn’t choose to invest in players who couldn’t pass their physicals.

Keys to the series: The Red Sox don’t want to get in a shoot-out. They’ll need to capitalize on the Orioles’ pitching: chase or wear down the Orioles’ starters to get to the bullpen, where they’re likely to have more success in manufacturing runs. The Boston pitchers will be the deciding factor in this series. They need to keep Oriole hitters off balance. Baltimore batters will take advantage of deep counts and any pitching mistakes.

The Red Sox need to have a goal of winning every series. Taking two of three games against the O’s this year is no easy task.