SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The Orioles remain one of the very worst teams in baseball as their never-ending rebuild is not taking steps in the right direction just yet.
Red Sox 9, Orioles 4
Down, like always. Baltimore was able to avoid a sweep to the Yankees thanks to a walkoff win on Thursday, but that snapped a five-game losing streak. Overall, they’ve won only twice in their last eight games.
9/17: TBD vs. Keegan Akin, 7:10 PM ET
This is officially a TBD, but by all accounts things are trending in the right direction for Chris Sale, who should be ready to take the mound again and make the start on Friday to start this series. The lefty has been on the COVID list and still has to pass some tests, but the team seems optimistic he’ll be ready to go. That would obviously be a good thing as the Red Sox are going to try and maximize the starts for their ace the rest of the way. Sale made his return to the major-league mound in August against Baltimore, allowing two runs over five innings with eight strikeouts.
The Red Sox will start this series going up against a young lefty who showed some promise in his debut last summer but has struggled much more this year. After displaying some real swing and miss in 2020, Akin’s strikeout rate is down below 20 percent, all while slightly increasing his walk rate and giving up more homers. The southpaw has been a bit better of late, not allowing more than three runs over his last six starts, though his ERA is still 4.35 over that stretch and his FIP is almost two runs worse. The Red Sox have only seen him once this year, scoring three runs over four innings. Akin will feature a low-90s fastball along with a changeup and a slider.
9/18: Nick Pivetta vs. Zac Lowther, 1:10 PM ET
For the only officially announced starter as of now, the Red Sox will turn to Nick Pivetta for their second game. The righty is probably going to see some time out of the bullpen following this start due to all the days off on the schedule, but he has to take care of business here. It’s been a rollercoaster all year for the former Phillie, but he’s coming off a strong start last time out against a good White Sox lineup. He’s got a 3.50 ERA over 18 innings in three starts against the Orioles this year, striking out 17 and walking eight.
Lowther will make it two straight lefties to start off this series for the Red Sox, and he’s an inexperienced one at that. Having just made his major-league debut earlier this year, Lowther only has 16 1⁄3 innings under his belt at this level. Things have been pretty tough in that time, too, pitching to a 9.92 ERA. He was the starter for Baltimore last week when they allowed 22 runs to Toronto, and he also made his first career start earlier this year against Boston. In that outing, the Red Sox scored seven runs off of him in just 2 1⁄3 innings. Based on his minor-league numbers, there may be some control issues here so the Red Sox should be patient and try to clog the bases. Lowther will feature a low-90s fastball along with a changeup and curveball.
9/19: TBD vs. Alexander Wells, 1:10 PM ET
This is more of a true TBD for the Red Sox, and it will be interesting to see which direction they go. If they stay on their normal schedule, it’d be Eduardo Rodriguez getting the ball. However, the off-day on Thursday would allow Nathan Eovaldi to get bumped up and make this start on normal rest after starting Tuesday’s game in Seattle. On the one hand, Alex Cora will want to maximize the number of starts from his best starters. And if Eovaldi doesn’t start this day, he won’t start until Tuesday because of a day off on Monday. However, Cora may look at the Orioles and decide he’d rather wait for Eovaldi to pitch Tuesday against the Mets, after which he’d be able to also pitch the series finale against the Yankees next Sunday. It’s still unclear how they’re leaning right now.
Wells makes it a clean sweep of lefties facing the Red Sox this weekend, and is yet another inexperienced one at that. Wells made his debut back in June and has been up and down all year, pitching to an ugly 7.76 ERA when he has gotten a chance to start. He’s never been a big strikeout pitcher as a pro, but his walk rate and home run rate has skyrocketed since getting to the majors, including in his last start when he allowed five runs and three homers to the Yankees. This will be Boston’s first time seeing the lefty. Wells will feature a high-80s fastball along with a curveball, slider, and changeup.
Fernando Abad was a member of not one but two division-winning Red Sox bullpens, though he was used infuriatingly by a manager who insisted on pitching him against right-handed batters. Now 35, Abad is in middle relief with Baltimore.
Travis Lakins never really was able to fit into a role in the Red Sox organization but has been a mostly solid reliever for the Orioles, though he struggled this year before going down with an injury.
Notable Position Players
Cedric Mullins gets forgotten at times because of his team, but he has been one of the very best players in baseball this year and is tied for sixth in fWAR among all position players. He’s hitting for power, he plays great defense, and his plate discipline is really solid to give him an all-around skillset and make him easily the best player on this Orioles roster.
Anthony Santander was a big breakout player in 2020, but this year was a struggle in the first half. That said, he’s turned it back on in the second half and has been a reliable power bat for this lineup.
Trey Mancini has been a bit banged up of late, but when he plays he’s still a very good hitter who’s not really great at any one thing but is very good all-around at the plate.
Ryan Mountcastle is going to swing a lot, and he will strike out a bunch. But despite the plate discipline issues his ability to impact the ball on contact puts him above-average on the season.
Austin Hays was Baltimore’s hero on Thursday, and he’s another guy who doesn’t really walk but does just enough otherwise to keep his line solid.
Ramón Urías has been a surprise in this lineup, mostly with his on-base ability, though a lot of that is driven by a seemingly inflated BABIP.
Kelvin Gutierrez was a summer acquisition from Kansas City, and the infielder has struggled mightily at the plate for both organizations this season.
Pat Valaika joins Gutierrez as infielders who have been at least 50 percent worse than league-average by wRC+.
While the Orioles offense is actually a bit friskier than I think most people would think, their bullpen decidedly is not. To be fair to them, their closer, Cole Sulser, is having a good season. His ERA is below 3.00 and exactly in line with his FIP. If the Red Sox are behind in the ninth, they will have a legitimate challenge of coming back. That said, the rest of the bullpen is not impressive. Connor Greene is probably the next scariest reliever they’d have to face, but his command is just off enough that he’s more fine than good.
The Orioles have a few names on the injured list, but it’s not anyone of too much consequence. Jorge López did give the Red Sox trouble in one start early in the year, but his season numbers are not impressive. Tanner Scott would add big stuff from the left side to their bullpen, but his control issues largely cancel that out. The Harveys Matt and Hunter are both out with injuries as well.
It should be a nice, late-summer weekend at Fenway with only a little bit of weather concern. That comes for the opener on Friday, though it shouldn’t be an issue. There is some rain in the forecast for the late afternoon, but it doesn’t look like it should have any effect on the actual game.
A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly their Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant for research.