Red Sox-Orioles series preview

June 13, 2013 - 9:17 am

The first-place Red Sox will make their first trip of the year to Baltimore, as they prepare to take on the Orioles for a four-game set starting Thursday. The Orioles got the better of the Red Sox in their only meeting so far this year, taking two of three in Boston'€™s first home series of 2013. Baltimore has proven to be quite a pain in the neck for the Red Sox over the past couple of years. Since the beginning of 2012, the Sox are 6-15 against their divisional rivals. But the AL East-leading Red Sox are on a roll. They haven'€™t dropped a series since May 20-22 against Chicago, and have won four of their last five. The Sox seem to be clicking on all cylinders, getting contributions from both expected and unexpected sources on a nightly basis. Even injuries (albeit not serious ones) to key players like Shane Victorino, Jacoby Ellsbury and Will Middlebrooks haven'€™t stopped the Red Sox from putting runs on the board, while the pitching staff has done its part to keep the team in just about every game. And the chemistry amongst team members has become obvious. '€œIt really is a fun group of guys,'€ said catcher David Ross. '€œIt'€™s been this way since spring training. You fell good about coming to the park every day and we'€™ve played well as a group.'€ That might be an understatement. The Red Sox have the best record in the American League at 41-26 and are second in the majors only to the Cardinals. They'€™ve extended their lead over the second-place Yankees to three games with a win on Wednesday. And the Sox have played well both on the road and at home, sporting a 21-14 record in Boston and a 20-12 record away from Fenway. The Sox own a 3½-game lead over the Orioles, who sit in third place with a 37-29 record. Baltimore has been a surprising club to some; the Orioles didn'€™t do much over the offseason, with the re-signing of outfielder Nate McLouth their biggest move of the winter. But the Orioles have hung in in a tight division thus far and have proven that they have the tools to stay in the race down the stretch. Center fielder Adam Jones said that playing as a team and developing a winning mentality has helped keep Baltimore in the mix. '€œWe win as a team and we lose as a team. We can have a guy go 4-for-4, and if he loses, he'€™s just as ticked off as he'€™d be if he went 0-for-4. If we win, it'€™s '€˜Who cares, we won, that'€™s all that matters,'€™ '€ the outfielder said. '€œWe win and lose as a team, and everyone has adapted that philosophy. We bring it every single day.'€ The Orioles '€œbrought it'€ against the Angels in their last series, taking two of three from Los Angeles. Baltimore has won 10 of its 16 games in the month of June. The Orioles have relied on their offense to make up for a pitching staff that has been disappointing so far. In terms of ERA, the Orioles pitching staff ranks as second worst in the majors (4.55). But the lineup has been solid, to say the least; Baltimore'€™s offense is third in OPS, is fourth in runs scored and leads all American League teams with 88 home runs. Here are the pitching matchups for the four-game set. Thursday: Felix Doubront (4-2, 4.84) vs. Kevin Gausman (0-3, 8.84) Friday: Ryan Dempster (4-6, 4.40) vs. Chris Tillman (6-2, 3.89) Saturday: TBD vs. Freddy Garcia (3-3, 4.47) Sunday: TBD vs. Miguel Gonzalez (4-2, 3.71) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ Koji Uehara struggled in the last game of the Angels series, throwing a season-high 31 pitches in two-thirds of an inning and allowing two runs on a hit and two walks. But when called upon the next night as one of the remaining members of a depleted bullpen in the 11th inning on Monday night, Uehara came through in a big way. The right-hander threw only 16 pitches through two perfect innings, giving the Sox a chance to win. He was impressive after a day of rest on Wednesday as well, coming in with a runner on second in the eighth inning of a one-run game. Uehara struck out Rays cleanup hitter Evan Longoria with only three pitches. Uehara owns a 2.36 ERA in 28 games this year, striking out 36 while walking only six. '€¢ After a slow start to the season, Ellsbury has more than made up for it recently. The center fielder is on fire at the plate and on the basepaths, extending an 11-game hit streak and 16-game on-base streak with a 1-for-3 day on Wednesday. Ellsbury has scored in 10 straight games as well. The American League'€™s leading base-stealer added to his total with five swiped bags in the three-game set with Tampa Bay, bringing it to 29 on the season. '€¢ Mike Carp has easily been one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises for the Red Sox this season, and he continued to swing a hot bat in the series against Tampa Bay. Carp now has hits in each of his last four games and has put up a .330/.373/.660 line in 24 games and 102 plate appearances. The outfielder/first baseman is on some kind of hot streak this month, batting .452 with three home runs, two doubles and nine RBIs in June. WHO'S HOT: ORIOLES '€¢ Adam Jones may only be hitting .205 in the month of June, but over the last few games he'€™s been swinging a big bat. Jones clubbed three home runs over a four-game span dating back to Sunday, bringing his total to 14 on the season. He also knocked a double and drove in seven runs over that stretch. Jones has been productive for Baltimore all season, posting a .301/.324/.522 line in 66 games. '€¢ Darren O'€™Day has been an important member of the Baltimore bullpen in 2013, and he'€™s been nothing short of lights out lately. The reliever hasn'€™t allowed a run in eight appearances (7 1/3 innings) while striking out five over that span. O'€™Day has shaved his ERA down to 1.55 through 30 games, while opposing batters are hitting only .204 off the righty. '€¢ Outfielder Nate McLouth has given the Orioles steady production from the top of the lineup, batting .289/.366/.412 on the year. The 31-year-old is second in the league with 22 stolen bases, behind only Ellsbury. McLouth has been making good contact, especially in June, striking out only two times in 41 plate appearances this month. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Stephen Drew had an awful series at the plate against Tampa Bay, going 1-for-13 with a walk and seven strikeouts. The shortstop also grounded into a double play and left seven men on base. In his last eight games, Drew is batting only .172/.250/.207 with 14 strikeouts in 32 plate appearances, walking three times and driving in two runs. '€¢ Coming off the disabled list and returning to the majors from a brief stay with Triple-A Pawtucket, Middlebrooks got off to a good start, singling home a run in his first at-bat back. But since then, the third baseman has gone 0-for-9 with a walk and four strikeouts. Extending back to before a back injury sent him to the DL, Middlebrooks has three hits in his last 29 at-bats, and his line has dropped to .196/.231/.391 on the season. '€¢ Mike Napoli, who can go through very rough patches at the plate in between scorching streaks, is experiencing one of those lulls in the last week-plus. The first baseman is batting .143 without an extra-base hit in his last eight games, striking out 13 times. However, Napoli has been able to draw six walks in 36 plate appearances and has four RBIs over that same span. WHO'S NOT: ORIOLES '€¢ Reliever Pedro Strop has been a big part of the Orioles bullpen for the past couple of years but has struggled mightily in 2013. His issues came to a head on Wednesday, when the righty suffered his worst outing of the season, giving up four runs on three hits and a walk to the Angels while recording only one out. Strop blew a 4-2 lead for the Orioles, and received the loss, his third of the year. The 28-year-old is the owner of a 7.58 ERA in 24 appearances. '€¢ Chris Davis has had a monster season so far, launching a league-leading 21 home runs while driving in 54 and knocking 21 doubles. But the first baseman has gone through a cold spell as of late. Davis had a big game on Wednesday, going 2-for-4 with a double and a home run, but it was his first double since June 5 and his first home run since June 2. Davis went through a four-game hitless streak, and has three hits in his last 21 at-bats with two RBIs in his last six games. '€¢ Chris Dickerson has taken over the designated hitter role for the Orioles as of late, but he has struggled to produce in his time at that position. Through 27 at-bats as the DH, Dickerson has hit .185/.214/.333 with a double, a home run and five RBIs. The former Yankee, who has seen his playing time with Baltimore increase after an injury to Nolan Reimold, has only three hits in 24 at-bats this month.