Pretending the Orioles were good last time didn't do the Red Sox any favors. This time around, we should just acknowledge that yes, the Baltimore Orioles are a better baseball team than they were expected to be. They have some problems -- most notably depth, as injuries will sink this ship faster than a viewing of Titanic 3D -- but they have talent, too.
Boston is currently 20-21, with yet another chance to reach .500 for the first time since April 30, when they were 11-11. As Ben Buchanan mentioned recently, Boston doesn't need to play out of their minds in the time between now and when the injured players return, but getting a head start wouldn't hurt their chances. If nothing else, finally getting over .500 in May would help.
If there's any mercy out there, the Red Sox and Orioles won't endure another extra game's worth of innings in this three-game set. That is, unless that's what it takes for Boston to win the series, in which case, have at it. There's a day off -- a real, live day off, the first in nearly three weeks -- on Thursday, after all.
Game 1: Tommy Hunter (49 IP, 2.0 K/BB, 85 ERA+) vs. Clay Buchholz (44 IP, 1.1 K/BB, 54 ERA+)
Game 2: Brian Matusz (43-2/3 IP, 1.6 K/BB, 76 ERA+) vs. Felix Doubront (44 IP, 2.1 K/BB, 102 ERA+)
Game 3: Jake Arrieta (55-1/3 IP, 3.9 K/BB, 86 ERA+) vs. Daniel Bard (42-2/3 IP, 1.0 K/BB, 86 ERA+)
Tommy Hunter is no great shakes, but he's facing a Clay Buchholz that hasn't entirely found himself yet in 2012. Things have been better as of late, but the fact we're excited about five strikeouts against four walks with a 3.97 ERA in his last 11-1/3 innings of work should also go to show just how far he had fallen prior to this recent stretch. With luck, this outing will go more along those lines or better, and not remind us of his last shame spiral of a start against Baltimore. If you've purged it from your memory, that was when he lasted just 3-2/3 innings while giving up five runs, essentially causing the 17-inning game where Darnell McDonald took the mound and the loss.
Matusz lost himself in a similar fashion in 2011, and, like Buchholz, has yet to find where he left himself. With any luck, these first two games will show a Buchholz ahead of schedule in those regards, and a Matusz stuck in a Boston-induced rut. He'll take on Felix Doubront, who needs to start lasting longer in games, but has been the team's most consistent starter (in a good way) nonetheless.
Last up, Jake Arrieta, who has pitched much better than his ERA suggests, takes on Daniel Bard, who you could probably say the opposite for at this point. Bard keeps showing flashes of why he can be a successful starter, but we're nearly two months in -- it would be encouraging to see another start without an overabundance of walks, one that comes with four or five strikeouts, even.
As for the hitting, you know the drill. Boston can hit, and the Orioles can too, and it all comes down to whose pitching staff can withstand the onslaught of offense better.