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Red Sox at Orioles Series Preview

A look at this weekend’s four-game set in Baltimore.

Baltimore Orioles Vs. Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

Camden Chat

The opponent in one sentence

The Orioles have been one of the faces of this bizarre shortened season as they continue to hover around .500 and stay in the playoff race in the face of preseason expectations.

Record

12-12

Head-to-head record

Orioles 2, Red Sox 1

Trend

Down. The Orioles had been winners of six in a row and seven of eight as recently as last weekend, but things have been downhill since then. They dropped the final game of that series against the Nationals last weekend and then are coming fresh off a sweep at the hand of the Blue Jays. Overall, they’ve lost five of their last six.

Pitching Matchups

8/20: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Asher Wojciechowski, 7:35 PM ET

Eovaldi is clearly the ace of this staff, but he hasn’t really been pitching like it of late. In fact, by park- and league-adjusted ERA he’s been worse than last season. Did you know that? Because I sure didn’t! The good news is he has been much better in terms of controlling the strike zone, getting back to the elite control we saw in 2018. The bad news is he’s getting crushed, giving up almost two homers per nine innings, a .359 batting average on balls in play and hard-hit rate over 40 percent. He’s also coming off his worst start of the year where he allowed eight runs over 5 13 innings to the Yankees. More positively, he did pitch well in his first matchup against the Orioles this year, tossing six innings of one-run ball on Opening Day.

Wojciechowski is pretty much the definition of a journeyman, making his major-league debut in 2015 with Houston, not making it back until 2017 with the Reds, and then not making it back until last season with the Orioles. He’s served as a swingman for most of his career but this year all four of his appearances have been starts. In those four starts and 18 23 innings he’s pitched to a 4.34 ERA, though his 5.93 FIP paints a less optimistic picture. Most of that FIP is due to a massive home run problem as the righty has allowed five homers already this season. Two of those came in his last outing when he allowed two homers and three runs total over five innings of work. Wojciechowski will offer a low-90s fastball along with a curveball and a slider.

8/21: TBD vs. John Means, 7:35 PM ET

No official plans have been made here yet, but it seems likely this is going to be another bullpen game for the Red Sox. Ryan Weber has been pitching well in a relief role of late and could see a few innings in this one. Colten Brewer could also see multiple innings and perhaps this will be a chance to get a look at the recently-acquired Andrew Triggs.

Means was a rare bright spot on the 2019 Orioles club, coming out of nowhere to put together an impressive rookie campaign and finish second in the Rookie of the Year voting. This season, the southpaw has almost identical strikeout and walk rates to 2019, but he also has an ugly 44 ERA+ while averaging fewer than three innings per start. Granted, we’re only talking about three starts, so the sample is still quite small. He only recorded two outs in his last start, allowing three runs on four hits to the Nationals. For what it’s worth, the Red Sox saw him five times last year and never scored more than three runs and only scored that many runs once. Means will offer a fastball that is up to an average of almost 95 mph this year according to Baseball Savant (it was under 92 last season) along with a changeup and a slider that he is not throwing as much early this season.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

8/22: Martín Pérez vs. Alex Cobb, 7:35 PM ET

Talking strictly about results, Pérez has been the best pitcher on the Red Sox this year, working around some iffy peripherals to generally keep runs off the board. That didn’t exactly happen his last time out against the Yankees, though, as he only made it through three innings thanks to a rain delay and allowed three runs. It is bizarre that he still has a very solid 115 ERA+ despite walking more than five batters per nine innings and striking out just over six. That is not a recipe for success, generally speaking, but Pérez continues to walk that fine line. He’ll look to continue that against an Orioles team that shelled him for the first two innings of his first start of the season.

Cobb has been one of the big reasons the Orioles are surprising people early in this season. After a couple of lost seasons upon joining Baltimore, including a 2019 in which he made only three starts, he is pitching to a 113 ERA+ over his first five starts this season. The righty is getting fortunate with a .218 BABIP and his walk rate is a bit higher than what we saw in his prime with the Rays, but even with those caveats he’s been a very solid arm. The Red Sox saw that first-hand in his first start of the season as they managed just one run over 5 13 innings in the outing. He is coming off his worst start of the year, though, as he allowed five runs over 6 23 innings to the Blue Jays his last time out, the first start in which he allowed more than two earned runs. Cobb will offer a low-to-mid-90s fastball along with a splitter and a curve.

8/23: Zack Godley vs. Wade LeBlanc, 1:35 PM ET

It’s been a little bit of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde experience for Godley so far this season as he alternates between strong outings and rough ones each time out. In his first, third and fifth outings, he allowed a total of one run over 12 innings of work. In his second and fourth outings, he allowed a total of 13 runs over 6 13. He’ll look to break that trend this time as his last outing was one of the good ones, allowing just a run to the Phillies over four innings of work. He’ll also look to potentially get another inning or two under his belt as he has yet to get over the four-inning mark this year.

LeBlanc is the kind of pitcher than can give the Red Sox fits in very frustrating fashion. A soft-tossing lefty seems to be kryptonite to this lineup at times, and he’s had success against Boston in the past. That said, he’s having a very rough year with a 57 ERA+ through five starts. That includes one start against the Red Sox in which he allowed four runs over 5 23 innings. He followed that up with a solid outing against the Rays, but the southpaw has pitched to an 11.81 ERA over his last three starts. LeBlanc will offer a changeup, cutter, sinker and curveball.

Old Friends

José Iglesias destroyed the Red Sox in that season-opening series and was off to a good start generally, but now he finds himself on the injured list.

Travis Lakins has settled into a bullpen role with the Orioles after being designated for assignment by the Red Sox this past winter, and he’s pitched solidly over ten appearances as a middle reliever.

Notable Position Players

Anthony Santander has been the best player for the Orioles this year and is showing bananas power with a .402 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG) to start the year. He’s also barely striking out to help him get to an impressive 173 wRC+ that ranks 16th among all qualified batters in baseball.

Hanser Alberto is the very definition of a pesky hitter and doesn’t really fit in this era. He’s hitting for solid power early this year, but generally he’s just a guy who never walks, never strikes out and hits a ton of singles. He has a 127 wRC+ to start this season.

Pedro Severino has been another surprise in this Orioles lineup. He’s played less than Santander because he’s a catcher, but he’s put up slightly better numbers with a 175 wRC+ thanks to big power and a high BABIP to go with his low strikeout rate.

Renato Núñez is going to strike out, but he’s also going to make loud contact when he does put the bat on the ball. He’s riding that power to a 135 wRC+ so far this year.

Rio Ruiz is a very similar type of hitter to Núñez, but he’s not getting the BABIP luck and is just barely hanging on with an above-average line.

Chance Sisco has a strikeout rate just barely below 40 percent this season but still boasts a 174 wRC+ thanks to a 21 percent walk rate, a .297 ISO and an absurd .467 BABIP.

Dwight Smith has been the rare struggling Orioles bat as he has had some trouble consistency tapping into his power.

Cedric Mullins has been up and down this year and while he has some athleticism and can draw some walks, the lack of power can be concerning.

Pat Valaika is going to put nearly everything in play but needs batted ball luck to put up big numbers.

Bullpen Snapshot

Cole Sulser has emerged as the Orioles closer this year despite an ugly strikeout-to-walk ratio and an ERA that is only solid (3.78) because of a BABIP below .150.

Mychal Givens has been the better reliever this year, having yet to allow a run with 13 strikeouts and four walks over nine innings.

Miguel Castro is second in this bullpen in innings, and he’s allowed a couple of homers but is getting strikeouts while keeping his walks under control.

Tanner Scott is the top lefty in the bullpen and while he can miss a ton of bats walks can get the best of him. This year, though, he’s been very good.

Injuries

Iglesias, as mentioned above, is on the IL. He has a strained quad and his timetable to return is unclear.

Trey Mancini is out all year as he undergoes treatment for colon cancer, but he is showing optimism for being able to come back in 2021.

Austin Hays has a fractured rib. His timetable is unclear, though he did play through the injury for a bit before going on the IL.

Hunter Harvey has yet to pitch this year due to a shoulder injury but they are hoping he can be back in a high-leverage role in September.

Richie Martin fractured his wrist in camp and is going to miss the entire season.

Weather Forecast

There are going to be thunderstorms in the area all weekend in Baltimore, but the Red Sox and Orioles should get lucky. The Sunday afternoon series finale could be the most at risk.