Series Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. Baltimore Orioles


After a day off, the Boston Red Sox continue their home stand with three games against the Baltimore Orioles over Independence Day weekend.

The Sox (38-47 overall, 20-22 at home) dropped all three games of their opening series at Fenway to the Chicago Cubs. They have slipped to 8.0 games behind in the AL East and are now just 1.5 games out of the division basement.

Playoff hopes are increasingly dim with the Sox now 9.0 games behind in the Wild Card standings, ahead of only Texas (10 games), Tampa Bay (10.5) and Houston (12).

Boston ranks 24th out of 30 MLB teams in team batting average at .244. The Red Sox are 27th in runs (321), 21st in hits (705) and 24th in home runs (63). Brock Holt is batting .322 through his 51 games in Boston. Dustin Pedroia leads the club in hits with 95. David Ortiz has the home run and RBI lead with 19 and 53, respectively.

The pitching, conversely, is 18th in ERA (3.87), 13th in runs (364) and ninth in strikeouts (680). Koji Uehara leads the Red Sox in ERA at 1.40, followed closely by Burke Badenhop (1.62). Jon Lester leads the club with 115 strikeouts.

Not only has the uncharacteristically poor play been a plague for the Red Sox and their fan base, but Jon Lester’s contract status emerged recently in the news again, with the star southpaw apparently now content to remain unsigned with only a dozen or so starts remaining.

Frustration is at its peak, with 23 games remaining before the July 31 trade deadline. The Sox have 13 home games and 13 divisional games in that stretch, including six (three home, three away) against the Toronto Blue Jays. Whatever sliver of hope remains for improvement and salvaging the season will need to happen in July.

The Orioles (46-39, 23-18 away) come to Boston off a home sweep of the Texas Rangers. They claimed a share of the division lead with Toronto (47-40) and are eager to stake claim to their first division title since 1997.

Head-to-head, the Red Sox hold a 1,169-965 all-time edge, but the teams are 5-5 this season.

The scheduled pitching matchups are:

Friday, July 4, 1:35 p.m. – NESN, MLB.TV

Jon Lester (LHP, 9-7, 2.92) vs. Miguel Gonzalez (RHP, 4-5, 4.56)

Saturday, July 5, 7:15 p.m. – FOX, MLB.TV

John Lackey (RHP, 9-5, 3.62) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (RHP, 3-8, 4.31)

Sunday, July 6, 1:35 p.m. – NESN, MLB.TV

Jake Peavy (RHP, 1-7, 3.24) vs. TBD

To get a sense of the O’s status and focus at the midpoint of the season, I posed the following to my FanSided colleague Randy Buchman of The Baltimore Wire:

You’ve just received a phone call from Dan Duquette naming you interim manager for the second half of the 2014 season. What are you going to do to lead the O’s to the AL East division championship?

A first impulse is to just answer simply by saying “more of the same.” It is difficult to be too terribly critical of Buck Showalter. Unlike the revolving door of his predecessors, I think Buck is indeed a great baseball guy who is very sharp and difficult to criticize much. Where the Orioles have not played well enough to gain more victories, it is not because Showalter did not pull the right levers. It is because players you would expect to be performing at a higher level are simply not getting it done (like Chris Davis batting .210 and $50 million-Ubaldo Jimenez with a 3-8 record).

So there are only a few somewhat different moves I will be making now that I am in charge.

Young Kevin Gausman will become a regular part of the rotation until such time as he proves he is not at all ready and capable … but I don’t think that is going to happen. The Orioles have had him up and down and up and down all season between AAA Norfolk and Baltimore. He has pitched several very fine games, and he is by talent the best arm on the team – throwing into the upper 90s deep into a game. So it is time to fully unwrap the present, take it out of its box, plug it in and see what we’ve got. We will start this on Sunday in Boston.

Starting pitching has been up and down for the Orioles. It was presumed to be the Achilles Heel – or should I say the “Achilles Arm?” – for the O’s this season, while the hitting was expected to be awesome. Honestly, though far from a group of aces, the pitching has done reasonably well on most occasions, while the offense has been the cause of more losses. Even so, the bats have come alive of late, as the Orioles led all of baseball with 46 home runs in the month of June.

All of this is to say that, if I am going to promote Gausman to a regular turn in the rotation, someone has to be pulled out. That someone is going to be Miguel Gonzalez, who has really struggled since coming off the DL a few weeks ago from a groin injury (the ailment of the year for Orioles players). Over the past two years, Gonzalez has performed well and been a sweet deal for the amount of dollars being paid. But he does not have overpowering stuff, and he therefore needs to pitch on the edge all of the time. He has little margin for error; and when he tires in the fifth or sixth inning, he can go over the cliff quickly. I see him as a long reliever, though I will still have to start him one last time in Boston on Friday evening.

That will leave my Orioles with a rotation of Chris Tillman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris (coming back from, what else? … yes, a groin injury), and Kevin Gausman.

It is going to be pretty much impossible to replace Buck in the clubhouse and in the hearts of the players, but, if they want to call me “Buck” it will be fine. With a last name pronounced “Buck-man,” it is not as if that has never happened before. However, I may prove to be a little bit less loyal than the former Buck.

Showalter’s loyalty on some occasions is a bit over the top, as he will stick with a player in a designated role or position in the batting order longer than is maybe deserved. His belief is that historic performance will, given some patience, generally return to a similar level. While this may be true more often than not, until it happens, Chris Davis may be batting lower in the lineup than fourth or fifth. For example, he just broke an 0-for-21 streak and is batting about .150 over the past month. And Manny Machado will have to come back from this five-game suspension and continue to prove that he has earned the #2 position in the batting order once again. His first game will be Saturday, but he was hitting the ball hard before this inconvenience came along.

I also will not be following the current baseball craze of game management that works to take a lead into the ninth inning in order to bring in a shut-down closer. This is a personal opinion more than an Orioles criticism, because, in fact, we may have one of the best situations in MLB for a “closer” in Zach Britton. Since I was not named to this position until now, and if I had been in a decision-influencing role over the winter of 2012-13, I would have screamed loudly that I wanted Koji Uehara to be secured for the back of bullpen … I wrote about it extensively at the time, but he ended up on this other team somewhere else! All to say – if the meat of the opponent’s order comes to bat in the eighth inning and we are holding on to a one-run lead, Britton will be on the mound throwing his deadly sinkers then and not being saved for the ninth.

So, thanks for the wonderful opportunity to take the Baltimore Orioles to the AL East championship.

– “Buck” Buchman