Welcome to our second edition of the Weekend Preview. Hopefully you find the sequel just as good as the original.
After a home opening series that saw an abundance of runs – and some forgettable pitching – the Red Sox continue their first homestand of the season with four games against the defending AL East champion Baltimore Orioles; a team that received as much admiration from the pundits as it did contempt from PECOTA.
Baltimore Orioles – Current Record: 5-4 – Projected Record: 78-84
The Orioles used a five-run sixth inning to beat the Yankees and their bullpen, 7-5, Wednesday night to take the final two games of the three-game set. Like the Red Sox, the O’s have had little trouble scoring runs, posting a .300 TAv over the first nine games of the season, but have struggled with consistency in the first two trips through the starting rotation with a team ERA of 4.61.
The Sox will see the top of Baltimore’s rotation in the last three games of the series, and their lineup will also be the strongest offense that group has faced all season. The Orioles staff held its own against a pair of offenses projected to score fewer than 700 runs the rest of the season in the Yankees and Rays. What’s more revealing is their performance against the Blue Jays – projected to score 804 runs – last weekend. The O’s posted a -4 run differential against the Jays, which was aided significantly by a 7-1 win Saturday.
Joe Kelly vs. Ubaldo Jimenez – April 17, 7:10 PM EST
Both teams got impressive season debuts from their No. 5 starters last weekend. Now Kelly and Jimenez will open this series in what could be a surprising pitcher’s duel. Kelly looked like a man of his word against the Yankees on Saturday. Not only did the bicep that was expected to sideline him early on appear to be a non-issue, but he also looked like the Cy Young candidate he predicted he’d be in the winter. The right-hander dazzled over seven innings, allowing just one run on one hit with a career-high eight strikeouts, sparing a bullpen that was taxed from a 19-inning marathon the night before. Perhaps Friday will be more revealing in terms of what we can expect from Kelly this season.
As a baseball fan, I’m always hoping the 2010 version of Ubaldo Jimenez returns. It certainly didn’t happen in 2012, when the righty lost a career-high 17 games and posted a 5.06 FIP, or last season when he finished with a 4.67 FIP and an ERA+ of 80 in his first season in Baltimore. Jimenez appeared in 2010 form on Saturday, however, when he tossed a one-hit, seven-inning shutout against Toronto, striking out eight and walking just one batter. Like Kelly, there is a possibility this was a fluke, but more should be revealed with another start Friday.
Clay Buchholz vs. Chris Tillman – April 18, 4:05 PM EST
You could say Clay Buchholz did what Clay Buchholz does best. After a stellar Opening Day start against the Phillies in which he came awfully close to “ace” anointment, Buchholz followed it up Sunday night with a nightmare performance against the Yankees on national television. He was knocked around for 10 runs (nine earned) on 12 hits over 31.1 innings, giving up seven in the first inning alone. Don’t bother trying to predict what we’ll see from Buchholz in his third act this season.
Tillman has had a strong case of Clay Buchholz syndrome through two starts this year. The righty followed up a strong Opening Day with an outing last week in which he gave up seven runs (three earned) and lasted just 22.1 innings in a loss to the Blue Jays. Tillman’s numbers, however, put him in line for a little more consistency throughout the season. He’s pitched over 200 innings each of the last two seasons and is projected to finish the year with a 3.96 ERA.
Rick Porcello vs. Wei-Yin Chen – April 19, 1:35 PM EST
Porcello gave the Red Sox exactly what they needed in their home opener Monday afternoon: innings. Porcello went eight strong on the heels of Buchholz’s 31.1-inning disaster the night before. He gave up four runs on four hits, a walk and six strikeouts and threw 75 of his 112 pitches for strikes. He was also gifted with the type of run support he wasn’t afforded in his Sox debut.
Chen hasn’t been bad to start the season. He allowed two runs on four hits over six innings Monday against the Yankees, and has taken two no-decisions so far. Perhaps most notable about Chen is his four of his five runs allowed have come off homers – two of them solo shots – leaving him at 2.61 home runs per nine innings, well above his career average. Although two games is a very small sample size, that trend could rear its ugly head against a Sox lineup with enough power to feed off it.
Justin Masterson vs. Miguel Gonzalez – April 20, 11:05 AM EST
There’s perhaps nothing more exciting about April than the 11 a.m. start time at Fenway on Patriots Day. This year’s Marathon Monday game will feature a rather underwhelming matchup, but one worth following for the Red Sox. After a solid season debut, Masterson pitched 42.1 ugly innings against the Nationals Tuesday, giving up seven runs on eight hits in a no-decision. The occasional rough start shouldn’t be unexpected for the righty. Last season he posted a 4.50 FIP and .339 BABIP in a tough season split between Cleveland and St. Louis, and is projected to finish with a 4.51 ERA this season.
Of all Orioles starters with two games under their belts this season, Gonzalez has been perhaps the most consistent. He’s allowed two runs over 122.1 innings (2.03 FIP) combined and enters Sunday coming off a career-high 10-strikeout performance against the Yankees.
The Orioles have yet to roll out a consistent lineup this season. Injuries and underperformance (Chris Davis, anyone?) have played a significant roll in that. Here’s one we can expect to see:
Alejandro De Aza – LF – L
Steve Pearce – RF – R
Chris Davis – 1B – L
Adam Jones – CF – R
Travis Snider – DH – L
Manny Machado – 3B – R
Jonathan Schoop – 2B – R
Everth Cabrera – SS – S
Caleb Joseph – C – R
The O’s are pretty right-handed dominant at the bottom of the order, and also pretty weak. They could use more pop from Davis (a repeat of 2013 would be nice, but don’t count on it), Steve Pearce has been a letdown so far after posting a .293/.373/.556 slash line last season and Matt Wieters is certainly missed, but they are still an overall threat with the fourth-best TAv in baseball, especially going against a struggling Sox pitching staff.
The Sox and O’s have a number of similarities in both their strengths and weaknesses through nine games this season, which gives all four games entertainment value. This could very well be the start of an exciting race between these two teams for the division crown this season.
Photo by Kelly O’Connor, sittingstill.smugmug.com