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Red Sox vs. Orioles series preview

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Looking ahead to this week’s four-game series against Baltimore

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

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Record

15-8

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Down. This isn’t entirely fair, as they have still been playing mostly well lately, but since the final game of their last series against the Red Sox, Baltimore has lost four of seven. Two of those three wins came in extra innings, too, so it could easily be worse. This isn’t to say that the Red Sox should have it easy with the Orioles right now, but simply that they aren’t as hot as they were heading into the last meeting.

Head-to-Head Record

Orioles 3, Red Sox 2

Pitching Matchups

5/1: Rick Porcello vs. Dylan Bundy, 7:00 PM ET (ESPN)

As we all know, Porcello hasn’t quite been himself through the first month of the season. He’s pitched to a 4.75 ERA, is walking almost three batters per nine inning and has allowed six home runs through five starts. On the other hand, the stuff is clearly there because the strikeouts are coming at a high rate. This will be a nice test of whether or not he can keep the stuff while also keeping the ball in the yard. If not, perhaps it’s time for a change in approach.

Bundy, meanwhile, has been the Orioles best pitcher this year (probably) and is going to be their best arm going forward (probably). Red Sox fans should be pretty familiar with this name, as Boston faced the young righty just over a week ago and were shutout over seven innings of work. He’s been something of the anti-Porcello this year, getting phenomenal results despite seeing a fairly sharp decrease in strikeout rate to start the season. The Red Sox should be able to put balls in play against Bundy, it’s just a matter of doing so with authority.

5/2: Chris Sale vs. Alec Asher, 7:10 PM ET (MLB Network)

Clear Tuesday night on your schedule, because Tuesday is Sale Day and we all know how much fun it is to celebrate Sale Day. I’m still not really sure what I’m supposed to say about Sale, who is coming off four straight starts with double digit strikeouts and has a 1.19 ERA through April. The dude is amazing, and it sure would be nice if the offense could get him some run support in this one.

Luckily for Sale and for our sanity, the offense should have a good chance of putting some runs on the board. Alec Asher ended up getting replaced in the rotation for the last Orioles-Red Sox series, but he did make a one-inning appearance out of the bullpen that went well. He allowed one run in 6 13 innings against Toronto in his only start this season. With Asher, you can expect to see a more finesse approach, as the righty leans more on a low-90’s sinker, a high-80’s cutter and an 80 mph curveball. Despite that approach, he’s had a surprisingly hard time keeping the ball on the ground over his career, which should be good news for Red Sox hitters.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

5/3: Drew Pomeranz vs. Kevin Gausman, 7:10 PM ET

Pomeranz seems right on the cusp of either breaking out or breaking....in? What’s the opposite of breaking out? Either way, he’s been a weird dude this year, as I mentioned the last time I wrote about him in this space. It didn’t change his last time out against the Cubs, as he did get seven strikeouts in six innings but he also allowed two solo home runs. That’s basically who he’s been this year. He’s getting strikeouts — 27 in 21 innings — but he’s also allowed five home runs in four outings. Between that and his inefficiency on the mound, there’s still one more step to take for Pomeranz. With that being said, even if he stays at this level he’s fine. We’re just hoping for more than fine.

Gausman, meanwhile, has been a massive disappointment for the Orioles this year. Obviously, they’ve been fine even without a productive Gausman, but some of their other pitchers are going to regress at some point (*cough* Wade Miley *cough*) and they could use a more effective Gausman to counteract that. Over his last three starts he’s allowed at least five runs in each of them including one against the Red Sox in their last series. He’s striking out a decent number of opponents and his walk rate isn’t out of control, so it’s basically come down to allowing hard contact. Some of that is bad luck, but he’s been plenty responsible for a lot of it, too.

5/4: Steven Wright vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 7:10 PM ET

If any game in this series is in danger of lasting forever because neither pitcher can stop allowing runs, this is the one. In all honesty, Wright wasn’t quite as bad as his line may have indicated his last time out over the weekend. He was left in an inning too long, and the damage started coming there. Despite that, it’s still been an undoubtedly disappointing season for the knuckleballer and he’s almost certainly the odd man out of the rotation if/when David Price returns. This start will be a good first step towards avoiding that fate

Jimenez, meanwhile, is among the most maligned starters in all of baseball. It makes sense, as he’s been inconsistent at best and has some of the worst control in the bigs. Over his last three starts, which has spanned 14 13 innings, he has 12 walks and has pitched to a 5.65 ERA. And yet, I always get a little bit worried about him when he’s on the mound. Every once in awhile, Jimenez harnesses his stuff enough to put together an impressive start, and it seems like the Red Sox are always vulnerable against those types. Of course, that’s probably just pessimistic thinking for the sake of pessimistic thinking.

Old Friends

Once again, this is the space to write about Wade Miley. The Red Sox have faced the Orioles in three separate series to this point and they have yet to face off against their old friend. That’s probably a good thing, as Miley has been one of the more surprisingly competent starters in baseball this year. Despite uncharacteristic control issues, he’s striking out 11 batters per nine innings and has an impressive 2.32 ERA. Given his track record, it’s hard to see this keeping up, but he’s proving he’s at least still a legitimate major-league starter. That wasn’t a given coming into the season.

Baltimore Orioles v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Notable Hitters

Last time I wrote this, I mentioned that Manny Machado had been one of the most disappointing players in the league to start the season. He’s started to get hot since then, showing off phenomenal plate discipline and getting back to showing off his power stroke. He’s the best player on this roster and there’s an argument to be made that he’s the best player in this series. Of course, there was also that slide, which you’ll hear plenty about this week.

Machado hasn’t even been the hottest player over the last week for the Orioles, either, with both Adam Jones and Welington Castillo producing at a rate over 75 percent better than the league-average hitter. Both right handed hitters, they could be a problem in a series with two left-handed starters, although one of them is obviously Chris Sale. So, ya know.

On the other end of the spectrum, both Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo have been ice cold of late. Over his last six games, Davis has a 46 wRC+ (average is 100) while striking out over 40 percent of the time and going without a single extra-base hit. Trumbo does have an extra-base hit and isn’t striking out as much, but he somehow has a 20 wRC+ in that same span.

Trey Mancini has also been cold, but he’s been incredible against the Red Sox so far this year. Three of his five home runs on the season have come against Boston and he has a 1.041 OPS in those games.

Jonathan Schoop is Xander Bogaerts’ buddy and also a damn good hitter who deserves more respect. He’s hitting .318/.320/.545 over his last six games.

Bullpen Snapshot

Right now, Brad Brach is Baltimore’s closer with Zach Britton on the shelf. Obviously, losing one of the elite relievers in baseball to injury is never a good thing, but Brach has been great in taking his place. He did allow three runs his last time out against the Yankees, but that’s the only outing this year in which he’s allowed even one run and he has 15 strikeouts to 6 walks in 13 innings this year.

The bad news for the Red Sox is that Britton is expected to be back on Tuesday, meaning the Orioles bullpen just got that much tougher. Britton, of course, had one of the great reliever seasons of all time in 2016 and looked good again in his first five outings of the year this season before going on the shelf.

Darren O’Day remains the next in line in Baltimore’s ‘pen, but he may be getting challenged by Mychal Givens. The former has seven strikeouts and seven walks in 10 innings of work this year with a 6.10 ERA. The latter has 13 strikeouts and 3 walks in 14 innings with a 1.29 ERA.

From the left side, Baltimore boasts Donnie Hart, who has emerged as a real weapon this season. He made his major-league debut last season, and over his first 26 innings at the highest level he has a 0.35 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 9 walks. He has three scoreless innings against the Red Sox this year with five strikeouts and two walks.

Injuries

As I mentioned, Britton is currently on the disabled list. Assuming a disaster doesn’t strike in the next 24 hours, though, he’s expected to return on Tuesday.

Baltimore is also still without Chris Tillman, who has yet to appear in a game for them this season. It appeared there could be a chance he’d make his first start of the year on Tuesday in place of Asher, but the Orioles are opting to give him one more rehab start instead. He should make his season debut this weekend after the Orioles leave Boston.

Weather Forecast

Monday is not going to be the nicest day in Boston, with clouds filling the sky pretty much all day and temperatures in the mid-50’s. They should avoid precipitation, though, so that’s nice.

The rest of the week should be better, with the clouds mostly clearing out and the temperatures in the low-60’s or high-50’s. Summer’s not quite here yet, but it’s coming. Either way, they should get all four of these games in without trouble.

Other Notes

Obviously, the story here is going to be weather the tensions between these two teams will carry over from the last series. In case you somehow missed it, Machado made a bad slide that put Dustin Pedroia on the bench for a couple days. Matt Barnes decided to retaliate a couple days later, and the ball got away from him and sailed behind Machado’s head. The Red Sox pitcher was suspended for four games. My prediction is that this whole thing is over, but you never really know with these kind of things.