Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
The Boston Red Sox return to Fenway Park tonight to begin a week-long home stand against two divisional foes: the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees.
The Sox are at 7-9 after grinding out two consecutive wins at U.S Cellular Field in Chicago against the White Sox (8-8). The team lost the opener to the ChiSox and finished 3-4 on its road trip after dropping three of four games at Yankee Stadium in New York.
The victory last night, which featured two top-shelf southpaws, Jon Lester and Chris Sale, carrying no-hitters through five innings, is sure to be an emotional lift for the defending World Champions as they enter a four-game series against the Orioles.
Monday’s Patriots Day game is sure to be a high-energy game as players and fans recall the tragedy of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, in which three people were killed and more than 260 others wounded. The Red Sox were a big part of the city’s healing in the wake of the grisly terror attack, and the resulting unity and resolve experienced by the team carried it throughout its successful season.
Still in the AL East basement, yet only three games out of first place, the Red Sox are in need of some consistent hitting to get them into win column regularly. With 13 consecutive division games on their schedule – 10 of them at home – there is no better time for the Sox break out of their sluggish start.
The Orioles (7-7) come to Fenway on a two-game winning streak too. They wrapped up a week-long home stand at 3-2, dropping two of three games to the Toronto Blue Jays before sandwiching two wins around a rainout against the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Red Sox will face the second staff ace in as many nights as they square off against Baltimore’s Chris Tillman (1-1, 0.84) tonight (7:10 pm, NESN). John Lackey (2-1, 3.86) will take the mound for Boston.
Tillman, coming off an extra day’s rest due to the Wednesday rain out, has not allowed more than one earned run in each of his previous three starts. He pitched five innings in the season opener against the Red Sox, yielding seven hits and one run while striking out four. Zach Britton recorded the win in two innings of relief, however. Tillman’s only loss came as the result of two unearned runs in eight innings of work against Toronto.
Lackey pitched well in his first two starts, recording wins in each, but allowed five home runs to the Yankees last Saturday, taking the loss.
Saturday’s game (1:35 pm, NESN) will feature the Orioles’ Bud Norris (0-1, 3.75), who pitched seven scoreless innings against the Blue Jays in his last start, against Red Sox’ Felix Doubront (1-2, 6.75). The lefty went 6.2 innings giving up seven hits to the Yankees Sunday night.
Ubaldo Jimenez (0-3, 7.31), who pitched well against the Red Sox in his first start, takes the hill Sunday (7:05 pm, ESPN). He’ll face Jake Peavy (0-0, 1.93), who has gone at least six innings in all three starts and recorded 20 strikeouts over 18.2 innings of work.
BSI: There’s little separation top to bottom in the American League East. On the positive side that means no team has taken command of the division and the title chase may be a tight race throughout the season. On the negative side it means some teams have struggled out of the gate. With the Orioles, do you consider inconsistency in the rotation as a major reason for their slower-than-anticipated start?
BW: I would not be surprised to see the AL East be a tight race throughout the whole season. Each team has strengths and weaknesses. And yes, the starting rotation is every Orioles fan’s biggest concern about the team and its viability as a contender. Other than Chris Tillman, it has been a wild adventure so far – though Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen each had strong efforts in their most recent starts. But honestly, the lack of consistent hitting has hurt the Orioles as much as their rotation, scoring only three runs in 30 innings against the Jays over the weekend for example.
BSI: While Nelson Cruz, Matt Wieters and, to the extent he’s played, Delmon Young have been performing well at the plate, some key contributors in the Orioles’ lineup have been cold: Chris Davis, Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Nick Markakis. Is there an explanation for the lack of power from these players so far?
BW: I suppose if there was an easy explanation for the lack of power from the four players that you mention, that they would know it and deploy a solution. But it is not a total loss. Chris Davis cannot be expected to hit 53 HRs and 138 RBIs every year. Even with only one homer, he is still on pace to knock in 100 runs. We could cite the weather – though, yes, others could as well – and some pretty good pitching thrown against them. Hardy has missed a number of games with back spasms. These things have a way of evening out.
BSI: Manny Machado is on the DL as he continues his rehab from knee surgery late last year. There were conflicting reports during spring training that he would be ready for opening day. What’s his status and when can we expect his bat in the lineup?
BW: I think it was always a greater long-shot for Machado to be ready for April than was ever admitted. Hope is a wonderful thing. It was a nasty knee injury and nobody wants to see him rushed back. Reports are that he is making progress – running sprints Monday for the first time. The Orioles beat writers push all the time for a definitive projection, but nothing is ever forthcoming on that. Orioles Manager Buck Showalter is very circumspect about such matters. I would guess it is probably about a month away.
BSI: For Red Sox fans, besides Nelson Cruz, there are some unfamiliar names on the Baltimore lineup card these days: Jonathan Schoop and David Lough. Who are these guys and how have they fit in so far?
BW: Schoop is hopefully the second coming of Manny Machado! How’s that for bravado? Seriously, he is a top prospect and the youngest rookie starter for the Orioles since a fellow named Cal Ripken (Machado was younger but did not technically have rookie status in 2013.) He has some great skills and has had some critical hits early in the season. He also single-handedly, literally threw away a game the other day with two throwing errors in the same inning. Schoop (pronounced like “scope”) is playing some third base, though he is projected to soon be the regular second baseman for years to come.
Lough came from the Kansas City Royals in a trade for Danny Valencia. He has great speed and is a plus defender. He has had a bit of a rough start and has battled some concussion-like symptoms from a spring training incident. Lough has great upside potential and is admired as a hustler.
BSI: Tommy Hunter wasn’t “officially” named the Orioles closer until the team broke camp. He has only a handful of saves so far. How has he done in the role and how is this year’s bullpen in general?
BW: Disclaimer upfront: I don’t believe in designated closers unless you have a rare someone like Koji – I’ve been a HUGE Koji fan and eschew the day the Orioles did not secure him as a free agent (though we are all thankful that he was the player traded by the O’s for both Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis!). But since, for better or worse (mostly worse!) the modern game “needs” a designated closer, Hunter is the guy for now. He has done reasonably well, though Toronto’s Colby Rasmus took him over the fence with two outs and two strikes in the 9th the other night to tie the game. I am not hopeful for the long-term success of this experiment, though I admit that Hunter has the personality for closer success.
The bullpen looks quite good, and I could imagine it being the strength of this team as it was in 2012. Zach Britton looks almost unhittable right now.
BSI: Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are names that Boston fans hear often as future major leaguers. How are these prospects developing and will we see them on the roster before September call-ups? Also, what about Johan Santana?
BW: Around these parts it is generally presumed that Gausman will be with the Orioles sooner rather than later – probably replacing some failure in the rotation. Bundy is on schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and will likely be pitching at Double-A Bowie in a few weeks. He is more likely to be seen in September. Santana is a wildcard for sure. I guess it could happen, but I’ll believe it when I see it. His velocity needs to come up – A LOT!
Though it’s only April, this is a pivotal series for the Red Sox. Stay tuned to BoSox Injection for news and views and the Red Sox seek to recapture their 2013 energy against the Orioles.