BALTIMORE, MD: Manny Machado #13 of the Baltimore Orioles hits a home run in the second inning against the Kansas City Royals at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The Orioles are holding down the second wild card in the American League, as they're a game back of the Tampa Bay Rays. They're 5-1/2 up on Boston, though, who could use a three-game sweep to get themselves back in the mix before it's too late even more so than the Orioles might need to win this one. That being said, the Orioles have the A's (1/2 a game back), the Tigers (1-1/2 back), and the Angels (2-1/2 behind) breathing down their necks, so maybe we'll call the two clubs' relative needs a push. Especially since the O's, despite their record, are just hoping the season ends without their run differential coming back to smite them.
Boston is now without Will Middlebrooks, who broke his wrist on a hit by pitch against the Indians this past weekend. The Orioles are plus one Manny Machado, who just shared AL Player of the Week honors with Boston's Adrian Gonzalez thanks to three homers and five extra-base hits in his first four games in the majors. By the way, Machado is just 20 years old, and only barely that.
Game 2: Miguel Gonzalez (55-1/3 IP, 2.1 K/BB, 124 ERA+) vs. Aaron Cook (51-2/3 IP, 0.9 K/BB, 94 ERA+)
Wei-Yin Chen is the closest to a sure thing the Red Sox will face in Baltimore. Chen was an international free agent, and has 140 innings in the majors under his belt, so closest is the key to that phrase. Don't let that take away from what's been an impressive stateside debut for the 26-year-old, who has posted a better ERA+ than the far more expensive, and far more discussed, Yu Darvish.* Even though NASA's rover Curiosity snapped pictures of a few Josh Beckett fastballs after the Rangers sent them into the deepness of space in his last start, you have to feel a little better about the righty's chances this time out, given he's once again on normal rest with the Sox losing the true six-man rotation. Or, maybe not, given how much many Sox fans dislike Beckett at this point. Eye of the beholder and all that.
*Chen isn't Japanese -- he's from Taiwan -- but he pitched in the Japan Central League for the last four seasons before coming to America and the Orioles. Darvish pitched in the Japan Pacific League.
Miguel Gonzalez is a former Red Sox property, as Ben Buchanan got into earlier today. His success is a credit to the Orioles' scouting, but the Sox should receive some of that as well for grabbing hold of him in the first place. It's tough to keep everyone useful around when your 40-man looks like Boston's has, though, and Gonzalez is elsewhere because of it. Don't fret too much: that crowded 40-man is the same kind of situation that allowed Alfredo Aceves to end up in Boston two years ago as well. These things happen.
He'll be taking on Cook, one of the arms that needed a 40-man spot after making the team out of spring training. Cook now has more walks than strikeouts -- and more homers allowed than both -- but he's been something resembling average thanks to his sinker. Except for in the starts where he isn't. The Sox need him to have one of those days where all those balls in play don't find holes if they want to have a chance against the Orioles' lineup.
Last up is Chris Tillman against Clay Buchholz. Tillman has bounced between the majors since 2009, and owns just 220 career innings because of it. He's had trouble with his pitchers, his control, homers in that time frame, but in 2012, things seem to be working out. His peripherals aren't that great, but even if he's just a solid back-end option -- Baltimore's version of Felix Doubront, perhaps -- he'll provide value to a rotation in need of some stability. Buchholz owns a 2.64 ERA in his last 14 starts, with a 2.64 ERA, 99 innings, 2.9 K/BB, just seven homers allowed, and a batting average on balls in play that's fallen from .363 to .277. He's coming off of a complete-game shutout of the Indians in which he didn't issue a walk, and is now the lone Red Sox starter with an above-average ERA+. Not bad for a guy who started the year out with a 9.09 ERA and 10 homers allowed in six starts.