Rich Hill

Weekend Preview: Red Sox vs. Orioles, Again

It’s Friday! Let’s preview the Red Sox’s second-last weekend series of the season.

Coming off a series win against the juggernaut Blue Jays on the weekend, the Red Sox faltered a bit this week against the Rays. The good news is that Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are still looking like top-level players late in the season, and Jackie Bradley Jr. is still getting an opportunity to work through his most recent spat of offensive ineptitude. The bullpen is a high-wire act every night, but I suspect most of the guys in the current ‘pen won’t be part of next year’s crew, although a few of them could be. The games don’t matter for this year, but they do in a future development sense. The Sox winning has pushed them up to being the 11th worst team in the game, which moves them out of a protected pick spot in next year’s draft and affects the money they are allocated for the draft and for signing international players. While the surge for third place in the division is fun, it is probably better that the boys lose a little more often so that the organization has a better chance at acquiring impact talent for the future. This sort of thing affects a large market team like the Red Sox differently than a small market team like the Rays, but it is still worth considering.

Baltimore Orioles – Record (76 – 76) – Projected Record (82 – 82)

The Orioles currently sit third in the American League East, which is right around where preseason projections had them. Their offense has hit for power but been hampered by on-base issues, making them below average as a unit (96 wCR+ … more on that below). On the pitching and defense side of things they have been middle of the pack, and, like the offense, around league average (98 ERA-, 99 FIP-). Being around average on offense and average on defense is not necessarily a bad thing, but it won’t lead to a great record. The Orioles have been a middling team for most of the season and, like the Red Sox, they are in look-to-next-year mode. With several key parts of their team heading to free agency this offseason (e.g., Chris Davis, Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O’Day, Matt Wieters, Steve Pearce), what they do this winter will have important implications for whether the run of success they’ve experienced over the last four seasons will continue.


Game 1: Rich Hill vs. Kevin Gausman, Friday, 7:10pm EDT

The 35-year old New Englander, Rich Hill, will make his first home start this weekend after carving up the Blue Jays and Rays on the road. Hill has been a wonderful surprise this September. In his two outings he has only allowed three runs and eight hits in 14.0 total innings pitched. Oh, and he has a ridiculous 20:1 strikeout to walk ratio. The extent to which Hill’s performance is sustainable going forward is not clear, but he represents an interesting option to consider for the 2016 team. Ryan Morrison wrote an excellent article looking at Hill’s loopy, high-spin curveball and how effective it can be when paired with a well-located fastball. The Orioles’ offense pairs the ugly combination of striking out a lot (22.4% strikeout rate is third highest in the game), with not walking a lot (6.8% walk rate is sixth lowest in the game) so Hill has a good opportunity to maintain his already impressive K/BB ratio.

The development of the much heralded Gausman has been bumpy. He was rushed to the big leagues last season, then spent April and the start of May as a reliever before being sent down to Triple-A to get stretched out into a starter. He returned to the Orioles in late June and has been used as a starter ever since. Over 15 starts the results have not been all that great. He has a 4.43 RA9, 4.30 FIP and 4.55 DRA. He throws a four-seam fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a forkball/split-change and a slider. The slider will be critical to his development as a starter but so far its lacking in effectiveness. He pitched against the Red Sox ten days ago, holding them scoreless over six innings, but struggled with control and walked four batters. He struck out seven, but four walks is too many.

Game 2: Bullpen Day vs. Wei-Yin Chen, Saturday, 4:05pm EDT

A stream of relievers will take the hill on Saturday. Who will start the game is not known, but it will reportedly be the reliever that is most rested. The bullpen day is an interesting concept, and something that the Tampa Bay Rays have been doing throughout the season. The Red Sox are likely implementing it because Steven Wright is still on the disabled list with a concussion and they want to limit the innings of Eduardo Rodriguez. In any case, going with a bullpen day makes things a little more difficult for the opposition, as they cannot stack things in a way to consistently gain a platoon advantage, and will not get the full benefit of the times through the order penalty. I expect the starter, whoever it may be, to go two or three innings, facing 15-20 batters before handing things off to the next guy in the chain.

Chen is one of those pitchers who does a decent job each season without much fanfare. Over his four seasons in the majors he has always thrown at least 130 innings, and been worth at least one win above a replacement player. Having someone in the rotation who can do that year-in and year-out is quite nice. This season has been his best if you go by ERA (3.36), but his peripheral numbers (4.24 FIP, 4.35 DRA) suggest that he has had some good fortune along the way to keep that ERA down. This weekend will be Chen’s fourth outing against the Red Sox this season. In his previous three, he mixed one really good start around a mediocre one and a pretty bad one. Hopefully the Sox can add another negative outing to Chen’s ledger.

Game 3: Henry Owens vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, Sunday, 1:35pm EDT

Last time out, Owens continued his tendency to follow great starts with rough ones, as he allowed five runs in 7.1 innings against the Rays. He got 21 swings and misses, but ultimately allowed too many runs. That start came after an outing in which he held the Orioles he will face this weekend scoreless over 7.2 innings, getting 14 swings and misses. The whiff totals are a positive sign that his stuff will work at the major league level, and these ups and downs are to be expected from a young starter, but he needs to start piling up positive outings if he is going to be a part of the 2016 rotation. Sunday’s start will be Owens’ sixth start at Fenway, and unfortunately the previous five have not been great. At home he has a 6.99 RA9 (6.04 FIP), while on the road he has posted a 2.38 RA9 (2.83 FIP). This pronounced split is largely a result of all seven home runs he has allowed having come in Fenway. Ideally, Owens can build on his successful outing against the Orioles that came earlier this month in Camden Yards, and improve his standing while pitching at home in the process.

Ubaldo Jimenez has followed up an excellent first half (3.08 RA9, 3.27 FIP in 99.1 innings pitched) with a real clunker second half (6.28 RA9, 5.14 FIP in 71.2 innings). In the first half Jimenez had a 98:32 K:BB, and only allowed eight home runs. In the second half he has walked the same number of batters, struck out 41 fewer, and allowed 11 home runs. Ah, the sweet, sweetness of regression toward a mean. Jimenez is essentially a league-average pitcher who walks too many batters. He has not fared well in his three outings against the Red Sox this season, having yet to get into the sixth inning in any start.

Opposing Lineup:

The Baltimore offense has been underwhelming as a group. They have scored 4.4 runs per game, which is average for the American League but ahead of only the Tampa Bay Rays in the East division. Their .255 TAv ranks 23rd in the game, which is simply not enough in the AL. With that said, they still have some boppers in the lineup. Manny Machado has a deserved reputation as a defensive whiz at third base, but he is also a consistent contributor at the plate: 132 wRC+, 29 home runs, 9.7% walk rate. Along with Machado, free agent-to-be Chris Davis has been mashing all year (43 home runs, 27 doubles), likely earning himself a nice contract this offseason, and team-leader Adam Jones has continued his free-swinging ways (61.2 Swing% is 2nd highest in the game, min. 200 plate appearances) and produced at an above average level (110 wRC+). The problem with the Orioles offense is that after those three, only one other player (Jonathan Schoop, 114 wRC+) has accumulated at least 200 plate appearances and posted a wRC+ better than average. While the Orioles can slug the ball (.421 SLG is 5th best in the game), their on-base issues (.307 is 26th) – only two players have an OBP over .320 (min. 200 PA) – have really limited them from piling up the runs scored totals.






Gerardo Parra





Manny Machado





Adam Jones





Chris Davis





Steve Clevenger





Jonathan Schoop





Matt Wieters





Steve Pierce





J.J. Hardy




With rosters expanding and the season winding into the last 10 or so games, the lineup that I have given could look quite different, as Buck Showalter may want to let some of his regulars have time off. We will likely see Jimmy Paredes (.256 TAv) get a game in the outfield, Nolan Reimold (.256) take the designated hitter spot one day, and Caleb Joseph (.251) do the catching, sparing the oft-injured Weiters.


The Red Sox have been playing really well since the trade deadline, and the Orioles are sluggishly making their way to the finish line. The Orioles have dominated the season series to date, taking 11 of the first 16 match-ups. The head-to-head results is one aspect of this weekend’s series to watch, but of larger significance (maybe?) is that it will play an important role in determining who finishes in the basement of the division.

Photo by Jeff Griffith/USA Today Sports Images

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