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Series Preview: Red Sox vs. Orioles

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A look at the first series of the 2020 season.

Boston Red Sox Summer Workouts Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

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The Opponent in one sentence

The Orioles have been one of the worst teams in baseball for a few years now and they appear to be the very worst on paper yet again heading into the 2020 season.

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Pitching Matchups

7/24: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Tommy Milone, 7:30 PM ET

The Red Sox rotation is, frankly, a dumpster fire, but there is some legitimate reason for cautious optimism around Eovaldi. We’ve seen him be good before, of course, in 2018, and that wasn’t just limited to the postseason either. He made legitimate changes that year including the reimplementation of his cutter that made him a very solid starting pitcher. Last season was a major step back, but he is healthy right now and was outstanding both in March and this month in camp. I think it’s fair to deduce that a strong start is important for Eovaldi to get things going this year, and what better way to get off to a strong start and build that confidence than facing off against the Orioles?

The Orioles lost their expected Opening Day starter to an arm injury, and so journeyman Tommy Milone is stepping in to make his first career Opening Day start. Early in the last decade it looked like the southpaw could be a solid starter for a long time, but things took a downward turn in the middle of the decade and he’s spent the last few years bouncing around the league, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen, and bouncing between the minors and majors. Last season he threw 111 23 innings for the Mariners in a swingman role, pitching to a 4.76 ERA with a 5.00 FIP. He’s not going to put many batters on for free, but in recent years all those strikes have resulted in a lot of hard contact. Milone is mostly a fastball/changeup pitcher, but he’ll mix in a few sliders here and there as well.

Boston Red Sox Summer Camp Workout Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

7/25: Martín Pérez vs. Alex Cobb, 1:35 PM ET

Things get ugly quickly after Eovaldi, and Pérez is the hope for the guy who will step up and be at least a league-average arm. He was the lone major-league free agent brought in to help this group, and he has frankly just not been good in his career. A former top prospect, he’s never been able to put it all together and has been below-average pretty much every year of his career. In fact, by DRA-based WAR he’s been below replacement level for the better part of the last half-decade. That being said, there is a modicum of hope for a surprise season this year. Pérez added a cutter to the mix last year and that led to a ton of soft contact. Minnesota’s defense didn’t help him out last year and so the results were still poor, but the hope is that he can get more help this year. My only issue is that he still walks too many batters and doesn’t strike enough out. That just leaves yourself open to bad luck, and bad luck with runners on base.

Cobb was a relatively big signing for the Orioles prior to the 2018 season, but in the first two years it has been a disaster. He was mediocre at best in his first season and then last season he was terrible for a few starts and then hurt the rest of the year. Baltimore is looking for a bounce back to at least usability here in 2020. It’s really hard to see him succeeding at this point in his career, though. The righty and Boston native had some solid years back in the mid-2010s with the Rays, but back then he was striking out around eight batters per nine innings. Over the last few years he’s been lucky to get above six. If he somehow finds some more strikeout stuff, maybe things could change, but more likely is that he just doesn’t have the stuff to succeed anymore. Cobb features a fastball, a cutter and a curveball.

7/26: Ryan Weber vs. Wade LeBlanc, 1:35 PM ET

Ryan Weber: Number three starter. What a time to be alive. The Red Sox seem to really dig Weber, which is about as far as I can go with any sense of optimism here. The baseball operations and scouting departments as well as the coaching staff with the Red Sox are all smarter than me. Shocking, I know. So maybe they’re onto something here. Or maybe they’re just saying they are excited because he’s their only option and what else are they going to do? Trash him? That’d be dumb. We’re talking about a pitcher who has five years in the majors but none with more than 40 innings, and one who has a career ERA over 5.00. Anything can happen in 60 games and if Weber is commanding the edges of the zone (and getting a big zone) he can be solid. But I’m not exactly expecting it.

A couple of years ago, LeBlanc was one of the wildest stories in all of baseball as the veteran, soft-tossing journeyman was putting up a bunch of zeros for the Mariners. His end-of-year ERA of 3.72 doesn’t really look that impressive, but it was solidly better than average for a guy who had been anything but for the last few years before that. Seattle gave the southpaw another chance last year, but it didn’t work as well. LeBlanc tossed 121 13 innings in 2019 and finished with a 5.71 ERA and a 5.49 FIP. Now the Orioles are hoping he can recapture some of that 2018 magic in a shortened season. The veteran is a bit of a different pitcher as he throws his changeup more often than any other pitch, and adds in a cutter, sinker and curveball.

Miami Marlins v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Old Friends

José Iglesias hasn’t been with the Red Sox since midway through 2013, and he has never really turned into anything close to a star. That said, he’s a bit of an underrated player in this league and can be a league-average starter any given year. The bat is below-average, but the defense makes up for that and then some.

Travis Lakins looked like a potential promising future starter for a short time in the majors, but his stature just never proved it would hold up in that role. The early returns for him as a reliever haven’t been great, but the Orioles are certainly the kind of team that can give him a long leash.

Notable Position Players

Iglesias was discussed above, and he is arguably the best all-around position player on the Orioles. I like Iglesias, but that does not speak well of their lineup.

Renato Núñez is probably Baltimore’s best pure hitter. The DH smacked 31 homers last season, though he doesn’t really pair that with another skill and still managed to be just barely below-average with a 99 wRC+.

Austin Hays is, in my opinion, the most interesting Orioles player to watch this year. His first two years as a pro were outstanding, but he’s sputtered in the high minors in the two years since. The athleticism and the tools are there, and if he can put it all together it wouldn’t be at all surprising with this year ending with him as Baltimore’s best player.

Anthony Santander is going to swing a lot and he’s going to make a good amount of loud contact. He just needs to whiff more if he’s going to settle in as a long-time regular.

Hanser Alberto is also going to swing a lot. He won’t make as much loud contact, but he is going to put pretty much everything in play after striking out just nine percent of the time last year.

Rio Ruiz is average or a bit below-average across the board on offense, which led to a 79wRC+ last season. It’s hard to pinpoint where the most likely area of improvement will be, but it’s got to come somewhere.

Chris Davis had a 58 wRC+ last season, and it was 14-point improvement on his previous season.

Pedro Severino was quietly very encouraging for the Orioles last season. He’s probably not a full-time catcher, but he put up a 95 wRC+ last season, which is like a 120 wRC+ with the catcher adjustment.

DJ Stewart is a former first round pick who has hit very well in the minors, but he did not look the part in his first taste of the majors last season.

Bullpen Snapshot

Mychal Givens has shown flashes of being capable of settling in as a legitimate late-inning arm, but the consistent command just hasn’t been there and on a good team he’s probably a fourth or fifth option at this point.

Richard Bleier Is a soft-tossing lefty, which is not really what you expect late in games. That said, it does work, especially when he has the platoon advantage. Of course, the three-batter rule hurts these kinds of players

Shawn Armstrong and Miguel Castro are the two right-handed set up options in this bullpen. They can both miss bats when they’re on, but control and command are major issues.

Injuries

Trey Mancini was set to be the best player on the Orioles this year, but he was diagnosed with colon cancer and is going to miss the entire season.

John Means is the guy I was talking about above when I said Baltimore was without their expected Opening Day starter. He is dealing with some arm fatigue right now.

Hunter Harvey was hoping to play a big role in this bullpen, but instead he felt some soreness in his elbow in camp and will start the year in the IL.

Dillon Tate is another former top prospect dealing with elbow issues.

Richie Martin broke his wrist sliding early in camp, and that is enough to end his season in a 60-game campaign.

Weather Forecast

There shouldn’t be any issues with rain delays or anything like that this weekend, but it is going to be hot and humid at Fenway.