Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

The best catcher in the AL East is coming to Fenway this weekend. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

You know, maybe if we all pretend that the Orioles are legitimate, the baseball gods will once again smile upon Boston, and let her foes be vanquished on the diamond this weekend. At this point, we might need their assistance to keep the Nameless One from being a successful second baseman for Baltimore, anyway.

Game 1: Wei-Yin Chen (24-1/3 IP, 2.4 K/BB, 185 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (31 IP, 1.6 K/BB, 93 ERA+)

Game 2: Jason Hammel (32 IP, 3.0 K/BB, 125 ERA+) vs. Aaron Cook* (33-1/3 IP, 1.2 K/BB, 226 ERA+)

Game 3: Tommy Hunter (31-2/3 IP, 1.6 K/BB, 96 ERA+) vs. Clay Buchholz (29 IP, 1.1 K/BB, 50 ERA+)

*Cook's numbers are from Triple-A Pawtucket

The Red Sox have never seen Chen before, but the same could be said of his opponents this year. Chen is one of new general manager Dan Duquette's international signings. And even one of the signings that was of age and eligible to sign!

He'll be facing Jon Lester, although we aren't quite sure which Lester is showing up. The one who struggles to repeat his mechanics and has long innings with lofty pitch counts? Or the one who can shut down any lineup in the league simply by doing what he's capable of? He's never lost to the Orioles before, and it's not just because of the lineup behind him: his career ERA against Baltimore is 2.36 in 18 starts and 114 innings, his finest performance against any team he's faced at least 10 times.

Jason Hammel has been great for the Orioles since coming over in the Jeremy Guthrie trade this winter. His most significant issue has always been health, as he's been productive when he's on the mound. Oddly enough, the story is the same for the man he'll be facing, Aaron Cook. The groundballing righty is making his first start of the season in the majors, as well as his first with the Red Sox, in place of Josh Beckett. The Orioles have been putting the ball in the air (and in the seats) with regularity, so maybe a dose of Cook's groundball-inducing sinker is just what they need to slow down.

Last, we have Tommy Hunter and Clay Buchholz. Buchholz was solid through the first six innings against the Athletics in his last start, but he unraveled after a defensive miscue by Mike Aviles. April is now over, and it was ugly -- let's hope May is the start of a return to the old Buchholz, and not another start full of both hope and dread like his last appearance in April.

Baltimore's bullpen has been productive this year, but Boston's is starting to come around, too. As roles have been figured out and the team gets further from its 15-9 meltdown against the Yankees, we see the Sox allowing just two runs in their last 27-1/3 bullpen frames. A few more inherited runners than that have scored, but not an absurd amount -- in fact, the team has let just one of their last 14 inherited runners score.

More of that from the pen will be helpful for Boston fans who still haven't quite exorcised the demons of September, 2011.

We could talk about who from Baltimore is hitting, but the answer is "everyone except for Mark Reynolds." No, really. J.J. Hardy is batting just .196, but he's also got four homers and eight extra-base hits overall -- time will even that average out, and he's still got his power. As for the rest of the non-Reynolds lineup, the lowest OPS+ in the group is Wilson Betemit's 100, followed by Nick Markakis and his 111 mark. Some of this is legitimate, some of it is small samples in motion, but with the way the Red Sox pitching has bounced between promising and poor this year, they'll have to hope something gives somewhere.

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