SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The Orioles are in what feels like a perpetual rebuild, and while their pitching is just not major-league caliber right now and they remain one of the worst teams in the league, their offense is surprisingly frisky.
Red Sox 12, Orioles 4
Down, though maybe not as much as usual. Baltimore is coming off a series against the Rangers, who happen to be another one of the league’s worst teams. They split that four-game set, but before that they had lost 10 of their previous 12.
9/28: Chris Sale vs. Bruce Zimmermann, 7:05 PM ET
There was a little bit of controversy surrounding Sale’s last start since he didn’t get a chance to pitch against the Yankees, but with eyes now set forward on the final six games, they have the opportunity to use the southpaw twice if they need to, and to get off to a good start in this final stretch with their ace. This will be Sale’s third time facing Baltimore since returning in the middle of August, and he went exactly five innings in each of the first two while allowing a combined three runs with nine strikeouts — eight came in one start — and no walks. While the strikeout numbers have been typically Sales-ian since coming back, he has been leaving some hittable pitches over the plate, something he’ll want to correct before a potential October appearance.
Zimmermann made his major-league debut for a quick cup of coffee last summer, and he’s missed some time with injury this year, giving him just 66 2⁄3 innings over his career. The southpaw is purportedly a command-oriented pitcher, though his walk rates in both the majors and minors suggest maybe that’s not a huge strength. He can miss some bats here and there, but for the most part he’s average or slightly below in each of the three true outcomes, which is reflected in his career 5.13 ERA. Boston saw him twice in a row at the very start of the season, scoring six runs total over 12 innings, striking out nine times and only walking twice. This will be his first major-league start since the middle of June as he’s been working back from an ankle injury. Zimmermann will feature a low-90s fastball to go with a curveball, changeup, and slider.
9/29: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Zac Lowther, 7:05 PM ET
Eovaldi was a popular pick to pitch the Wildcard Game for the Red Sox in the scenario where they’d get to line things up and have their choice, though his last outing against the Yankees was certainly a shaky one. The good thing about the righty this year has been that he’s very rarely strung bad starts together. In that outing last weekend, his secondaries were just not working at all, and if he doesn’t have confidence in all of his pitches then he suddenly becomes much easier to hit. Look specifically for how his splitter and curveball are working. He’s somehow only faced Baltimore twice this year — once to start the season, and once just over a week ago — combining to allow four runs over 10 1⁄3 innings, striking out 12 and walking two.
Lowther, a rookie lefty, is becoming awfully familiar with the Red Sox. The southpaw has made only nine career appearances — five starts and four out of the bullpen — and this will be his third meeting with Boston. He has not had a whole lot of luck in the first two, both of which came as a starter. The Red Sox have scored a combined 10 runs off Lowther in those two appearances over 5 2⁄3 innings, striking out five times and walking four. He will have a bit of confidence coming into this one, however, having tossed five shutout innings against the Rangers in his last start. Lowther will feature a low-90s fastball along with a changeup, curveball, and slider.
9/30: TBD vs. Alexander Wells, 7:05 PM ET
This would seem to me to be a true TBD for the Red Sox, and it will likely hinge on what happens in the first two games. They could use Nick Pivetta on normal rest, or they could go with something of a bullpen game, perhaps with Tanner Houck starting just for a couple of innings. Or they could even call up someone like Connor Seabold, whose last start in Worcester was cut short due to food poisoning. If they lose one or both of the first two games, I suspect Pivetta will be out there. But if they take the first two, I wouldn’t be surprised if they hold Pivetta back for the Nationals series.
Wells makes it three straight lefties for the Red Sox to face this weekend, which could be something of a minor issue as Boston has been slightly worse against southpaws this year with a 103 wRC+ compared to a mark of 109 against righties. That said, they’ve gotten to Lowther as we mentioned above, and against Wells earlier this month they scored five runs in five innings, so there’s really no excuse here. Wells is another rookie, and while he got by alright in the minors with a low walk rate, that number has creeped around average in the majors, which just won’t cut it given his lack of stuff. Wells features a high-80s fastball with a curveball, slider, and changeup. In fact, all three of these pitchers they’ll face this week have very similar repertoires, which should be helpful by the time they get to this game.
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 is easily the best player on this team, and has simply been one of the best players in baseball this year, ranking eighth in fWAR. He just made it into the 30/30 club, which gives a good sense of both his power and athleticism, and he pairs with above-average rates in terms of both strikeouts and walks.
Austin Hays is not going to draw a ton of walks or get too deep into most counts, but he makes a solid amount of contact and has hit for good power this year, keeping his line better than average.
Trey Mancini and his comeback have been one of the best stories in baseball this year, and he’s been able to provide solid production in the lineup by being good, though not great, in all facets at the plate.
Anthony Santander got off to a slow start following a breakout year in 2020, but he’s looked much better of late and still may able to provide at least some of the upside he showed last summer.
Ryan Mountcastle is something of an all-or-nothing hitter, carrying a strikeout rate a bit higher than average and a walk rate a bit lower than average, but mostly getting by on his plus power.
Pedro Severino will draw a walk here and there, but beyond that the catcher typically doesn’t provide too much at the dish.
Kevin Gutierrez has been awful since landing with the Orioles, striking out over 30 percent of the time while hitting for below-average power.
Pat Valaika hasn’t been able to get anything going this year, and only two batters (one of whom is Jackie Bradley Jr.) has been worse by wRC+ with at least 250 plate appearances.
Richie Martin hasn’t really played much this year, and when he has he’s been significantly below-average as a hitter.
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 in 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.
The weather should be cooperative in this penultimate series of the regular season. There is some rain in the forecasts for Tuesday, but it should clear out by first pitch.
A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly their Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant for research.