Apr 21, 2014: Baltimore Orioles third baseman Ryan Flaherty is is tagged out by Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts during the eighth inning at Fenway Park (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports).
The Red Sox return to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor today, the site of their season-opening series, for the first of three games against the Orioles at Camden Yards. Boston holds a 4-3 edge in games this season and is 1168-963 all-time against the O’s.
Boston (28-34), arguably the streakiest team in baseball, hopes to add three consecutive victories to last night’s defeat of the Tigers in Detroit.
David Ortiz belted a three-run HR in the ninth inning last night to break the team’s five-game skid. It was his team leading 14th homer of the season, also padding his team RBI lead of 38. Brock Holt leads the team in batting average (.339) while Dustin Pedroia leads in hits (68) and doubles (19).
John Lackey notched his seventh victory last night, giving him one more than Jon Lester for the team lead. His Lackey’s 3.18 ERA is the best among the Sox’ opening day rotation. Koji Uehara has the best overall ERA at 0.67 and leads the team with 12 saves.
The Red Sox are 20th of 30 MLB clubs in batting average at .247, 16th in ERA at 3.88 and 11th with a .985 fielding percentage.
The Orioles are 31-30 after dropping two of three games at home to the Oakland Athletics during the weekend, including an 11-1 drubbing yesterday. Nonetheless, the Birds are in second place in the AL East division and just 1.5 games out of a Wild Card berth.
Nelson Cruz leads the majors with 21 HRs and 55 RBI. He’s batting .307 with an OPS of 1.021 over 60 games. There’s a power failure after Cruz though. Last year’s HR champ, Chris Davis, has just nine round trippers this year. He’s tied with Adam Jones for second place on the team. Nick Markakis leads the team in average at .309 and hits with 79.
Starter Wei-Yin Chen leads the O’s with six wins. His 4.13 ERA is the best so far in Baltimore’s rotation. Zach Britton has a minuscule 0.83 ERA and 0.95 WHIP out of the bullpen. His five saves are second to closer Tommy Hunter’s 11.
As a team, the Orioles are 28th in the majors with a .267 batting average, 25th in pitching ERA at .428 and fifth with a .986 fielding percentage.
The probable pitching match-ups are as follows:
Wednesday, June 11, 7:05 p.m., NESN & ESPN
Rubby De La Rosa (1-1, 2.84, 13 Ks) vs. Wei-Yin Chen (6-2, 4.13, 50 Ks)
* Workman’s appeal of a six-game suspension is pending as of this writing.
BSI: To the surprise of few, the Orioles are proving themselves contenders in the American League East Division. The fact that they are doing it the manner they are has been a surprise though. What is unique about this 2014 team that has it continually posting wins?
RB: The question has a more positive tone than is the feeling in Oriole-land. After 61 games, the Orioles are only one game over .500, and this is not the O’s team that most Baltimore fans thought they were going to see this year.
This has been a season of ups and downs, highs and lows, with a regular dose of inconsistency that is very frustrating to watch. The pitching has been very sketchy; the Birds will lose one night 8-6 and then the next evening by 2-1.
There is an argument to be made that with the numbers of injuries to key players, that honestly not much more than a 31-30 record could be reasonably expected. On the other hand, the Orioles are far from alone in that respect, and a feeling exists that an early-season opportunity has been missed to put some distance on other AL East teams with even greater roster troubles.
BSI: The bullpen has been one of the stronger components of the team. Who has emerged this year to lead its success?
RB: Two of the relievers have been having highly successful seasons: Zach Britton (0.83 ERA/32.2 innings) and Darren O’Day (1.01 /26.2). Ryan Webb (2.70) has also done well in most situations, while Brian Matusz – even with a 4.09 ERA – has been effective in stranding inherited runners at a high level.
The rest of the bullpen has been a mixed bag of results, with many comings and goings. They get called upon a lot – too much – and some of the numbers are inflated by overuse and bad circumstances.
Tommy Hunter will be returning to the team and activated for this series after a couple of weeks on the DL. He really did not get the job done as a closer, and that role now appears to belong to Zach Britton.
Many O’s fans would like to see Britton moved back into his earlier career role as a starter, but I don’t think that is in the cards for this season.
BSI: The Nelson Cruz free agent signing has made Baltimore GM Dan Duquette look like a genius. What else has he done to put this team in the running after such a long stretch of mediocrity?
RB: Yes, Cruz at $8-million has proven to be a good deal. He has likely saved the Orioles from a certain devastating early-season fate of losing. This is offset however by the four-year, $50-million deal for Ubaldo Jimenez which has not worked out at all. The O’s have only won three of the 13 games he has started, including today’s (Sunday) disaster with six runs and five walks in 2.1 innings. Ugh!
Duquette has been often criticized for so many small moves that he makes. He has gained a nickname here (not sure if he ever had this in Boston) of “DDDD” or “4-D” which stands for Dumpster Diving Dan Duquette. But honestly, many of those “depth” moves have paid off, especially with injuries that abound. He is gaining more respect over time.
BSI: Matt Wieters’ injury is the big question mark hanging over this team still. If Wieters is shut down for the season, what is the likely impact both on the field and in the clubhouse?
RB: It is difficult to replace one of the premier defensive catchers in the game. And though his offensive production had gone down year after year, he was off to an awesome start on the season before this elbow injury took him out. He is such a fine person that it truly is a sad event.
Caleb Joseph (an older rookie) has recently been getting most of the time behind the plate. He had an incredible season in the minors last year with great power numbers. But he was seen as a defensive liability. Now, he has played extraordinarily well behind the plate, yet has been slow to hit for much – though that seems to be turning around for him as well in recent games.
BSI: The Orioles recently added Johan Santana to the 40-man roster only to see him suffer a season-ending Achilles injury within days of the move. There is still more pitching depth in the team’s system though. Who are the likely prospects to get the call to the big leagues and might the Red Sox see them soon?
RB: The first call has already been made, and that was to Kevin Gausman who pitched a gem on Saturday. So the Sox will not see him in this series. Gausman was a recent first-round choice, and the Orioles have been limiting his pitch counts early in the season to about 75 a game – all with a view toward him helping down the stretch. I would guess his time has arrived.
Beyond that, there are not a lot of clear choices for the Orioles. They really need the current rotation to live up to their potential – some days they do, but others they are downright awful.