Red Sox-Orioles series preview

August 27, 2013 - 7:13 am

The Red Sox head back to Fenway on Tuesday after a successful road trip, kicking off a nine-game homestand with a three-game set against the Orioles. It'll be a sweet homecoming for the Red Sox, a team that's played 16 of its last 19 games on the road. The Red Sox are coming home on a high note, taking two of three from the Dodgers and handing them their first series loss since before the All-Star break. It was a very good road trip for the Sox, who went 4-2 in six games against the defending World Series champs, the Giants, and the scorching-hot Dodgers. The Sox have maintained a very slim lead in the division, with the Rays nipping at their heels. But with a Rays loss on Monday, the Red Sox have first place all to themselves, establishing a 1½-game advantage over Tampa Bay. It's obviously too soon to call anything, but according to, the Red Sox have a 95.2 percent chance of making the postseason. The Sox haven't exactly been on fire this month, going 12-11 in August. Then again, they've been forced to play 16 of 23 games on the road, and they're a much better home team (40-23) than road team (39-32). The Orioles are hanging tight in the race for the division crown, but have been unable to gain much ground, sitting 5½ games out of first and 2½ out of a wild card spot. Much like the Red Sox, the Orioles have played average baseball since the All-Star break, going 17-16 in the second half. But they've won two of their last three series, coming off a set in which they took two of three from the A's. Baltimore has won six of 10 games in the seasons series against the Red Sox, but the Sox managed to take two of three from the Orioles in Baltimore back in late July. Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game series. Tuesday: Felix Doubront (9-6, 3.79) vs. Wei-Yin Chen (7-6, 3.19) Wednesday: John Lackey (8-11, 3.17) vs. Bud Norris (9-10, 4.22) Thursday: Jon Lester (12-7, 3.97) vs. Chris Tillman (14-4, 3.66) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ If there was one thing in particular that stood out about the series win against the Dodgers, it was the starting pitching. The Sox got 24 1/3 innings from the starting pitchers over the course of three games, with complete games coming from Lackey (his was eight innings, since he took the loss) and Jake Peavy. In those 24 1/3 innings, the starters gave up a total of four runs on only nine hits. Each starter gave up just three hits, which is impressive in its own right, but even more astounding against one of the National League's best offenses and the hottest team in the majors. '€¢ Even though two games represent much too small of a sample size to discern anything, Mike Napoli showed some promising signs in his last two starts. The first baseman has seen reduced playing time and is dealing with plantar fasciitis in his foot, but Napoli was able to leg out an infield hit on Saturday, one of his three hits on the day. Sunday was even better for Napoli, who went 2-for-4 with a double and a home run, driving in three runs. Napoli has really slumped since the end of July, batting .131/.274/.213, but has showed some encouraging signs of getting hot again. He's even been striking out less, fanning just twice in his last six games after striking out three times three games in a row earlier this month. '€¢ It's no secret that Dustin Pedroia has struggled in the second half of the season, but it looks like he's breaking out of that slump. The second baseman went 6-for-11 with two doubles in the Dodgers series and hit .435 on the road trip, and he's now hitting .377/.382/.509 since Aug. 13. The power numbers are still down for Pedroia, who hasn't hit a home run since the last game in July, but he has racked up five doubles and a triple in his last 12 games. Pedroia has boosted his line back up to .299/.374/.415 with the big road trip, and has totaled 32 doubles, eight home runs and 71 RBIs on the season. WHO'S HOT: ORIOLES '€¢ Home run leader Chris Davis is back to swinging a hot bat after a small slump upon returning from the All-Star break. Davis is hitting .364/.522/.636 with almost as many walks (11) as strikeouts (13) in his last 10 games, smashing two home runs and three doubles while driving in six over that span. The last time the Red Sox saw the Orioles, Davis was in the midst of his longest home run drought of the season, a 10-game stretch to kick off the unofficial second half. But the drought is a thing of the past, and Davis has hit eight home runs in 21 games this month. The first baseman leads the Orioles in most offensive categories, including RBIs (a staggering 118 with more than a month left to play in the season), batting average (.304), OBP (.387) and slugging percentage (.679) as well as home runs, obviously, with 46 on the season. '€¢ Manny Machado is proving that his successful introduction to the big leagues in 2012 was no fluke. The 21-year-old third baseman is hitting an impressive .296/.325/.446 through a league-best 551 at-bats, leading all major league hitters with 44 doubles. He comes into the series on a particularly productive streak, hitting .341 with a home run and two doubles over his last 10 games. Machado has been very good through the entire month of August, batting .308/.337/.429 in 21 games. '€¢ Hard-throwing righty Tommy Hunter has been one of the Orioles' most consistent relievers this season, aespecially lately. He's allowed runs in just one of his last 11 appearances (12 innings), good for a 1.50 ERA since Aug. 4. Opposing hitters are batting just .167/.205/.190 against Hunter in that time frame. Hunter has really found his niche in a late-inning relief role, with this being his first full season in the bullpen, posting a 2.60 ERA in 69 1/3 innings. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Jacoby Ellsbury was relatively quiet on the road trip aside from one big three-hit game against the Giants, going 6-for-26 (.231) in the six contests. Ellsbury has been hot and cold recently, following an impressive game with a few mediocre ones. In his last 13 games, he's batting just .200/.226/.233 with two doubles and four RBIs, while striking out 17 times and walking only twice. Overall on the season, Ellsbury still leads the majors in stolen bases with 47, and is batting .293/.351/.416 through 122 games. '€¢ Will Middlebrooks came out of the gate on a tear when he was recalled Aug. 10, but he's come back down to earth lately. The third baseman (who made his major league debut at second base on the road trip, and even turned a double play there) went 4-for-19 on the trip, striking out seven times and grounding into two double plays. Despite the quiet trip, Middlebrooks is still hitting .356/.444/.556 with two home runs since returning, and has definitely shown an improvement when it comes to plate approach, drawing seven walks in comparison to 13 strikeouts. '€¢ After blowing his seventh save of the season in last week's loss to the Giants, Junichi Tazawa gave up a run in another critical spot on Saturday, though the run didn't cost the Red Sox. Tazawa has given up runs in three of his last six outings (three runs in five innings), allowing seven hits and a walk while striking out five. The Sox hope the rough stretch is just a bump in the road for the righty, who has been effective this season, posting a 2.75 ERA in 59 innings, striking out an average of over nine per nine innings with a 7.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio. WHO'S NOT: ORIOLES '€¢ Despite collecting six hits in his last four games, Nate McLouth has been enduring a cold streak. The speedy outfielder is hitting .191/.276/.338 with 19 strikeouts in his last 19 contests (.135/.211/.231 in 15 games before his recent six-hit surge). Despite the slump, McLouth is putting up solid numbers overall in his first full season with the Orioles, batting .272/.342/.412, leading the O's with 29 stolen bases, though he's only been able to swipe four bags this month. '€¢ It's been somewhat of an off year for Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, who, despite leading the league with 40 saves, also leads the majors with nine blown saves. Earlier this month, the righty labored through a stretch in which he gave up a run in four straight outings, blowing three saves. Johnson has a 6.35 ERA in his last 5 2/3 innings pitched, giving up four runs on 11 hits and two walks, while his ERA on the season has risen to 3.51 after finishing the year with sub-3.00 ERAs in the past two seasons. '€¢ Catcher Matt Wieters has shown a lot of pop for the Orioles this season, clubbing 23 doubles and 19 home runs, but his production has been slow in the second half. Wieters is batting just .165/.221/.365 with five home runs and two doubles in his last 25 games, and while his production has picked up slightly in his last 10 contests with three home runs, he's still hitting just .200 over his last 39 plate appearances. The two-time All-Star's power numbers are consistent with what he's done the past few years, but his overall line has fallen to .233/.290/.423 on the season.