Red Sox-Orioles series preview

September 17, 2013 - 4:13 am

The Red Sox will look to secure a playoff berth and possibly dash the postseason hopes of a divisional rival with the Orioles in town for a three-game set. Not much stands in the way of the Red Sox these days. The Sox closed out their season series against the Yankees with a relatively quiet, drama-free three-game sweep. They finish 13-6 against their New York rivals, the first time an opponent has taken 13 games from the Yankees since 1992. They also eliminated the Yankees from the possibility of winning the division, though they'€™re still in the fight for a wild card spot. With 11 games left to play, the Red Sox are 92-59, 23 wins better than their 2012 record. They'€™re playing their best baseball of the season, going 11-3 in September. "Our confidence continues to grow, and that's not to take anything for granted, or a matter of our guys thinking that someone is not going to pitch a good game against us or play a good game against us," manager John Farrell said. "It's just a matter of this group believes in itself and it continues to show up between the lines." It seems that a celebration is imminent for the Red Sox. The sweep puts the Red Sox in a prime position to wrap up the division title, holding a nine-game lead in the AL East. The magic number to clinch the division is down to 4. The scenario for clinching a playoff spot is a little more complicated. The Indians were defeated by the Royals on Monday night, so an Indians loss on Tuesday coupled with a Red Sox win would be enough to clinch the berth. The Orioles still are in the race for a wild card spot, but their upcoming schedule is not an easy one. They'€™ll kick off a stretch of 13 straight games to conclude this season, starting Tuesday night. Baltimore currently sits two games out of a wild card spot, 1½ games behind Cleveland and just a half-game in front of the Royals and Yankees. After losing three of four to the Yankees last week, the Orioles were in desperate need of a series victory, which they accomplished on Sunday in Toronto. "It's big," reliever Tommy Hunter said of the series win against the Blue Jays. "It takes us into that Boston series with a series victory. We have quite a task ahead of us. We're looking forward to it." The Orioles have been the one AL East team that has the Red Sox'€™ number. While the Sox own winning records against the Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays, they'€™re down 7-6 in the season series with the Orioles. However, the Sox came out on the winning end in both of their previous two series against Baltimore, and are looking to take advantage of a team that plays .500 baseball away from Camden Yards. Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game set. Tuesday: Ryan Dempster (8-9, 4.70) vs. Scott Feldman (5-4, 3.62) Wednesday: Jake Peavy (11-5, 4.03) vs. Wei-Yin Chen (7-7, 3.99) Thursday: John Lackey (9-12, 3.56) vs. Chris Tillman (16-6, 3.70) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ Mike Napoli just keeps on hitting. The first baseman has been scorching at the plate this month, putting up numbers reminiscent -- if not better -- than his stellar month of April. Napoli had only five at-bats in the series with the Yankees, getting a day off on Friday night, but still managed to rack up three hits, one of them being a home run. He also drew three walks. Undoubtedly, Napoli'€™s run production and power (four doubles and five home runs) this month have been the topic of discussion. But that'€™s not all he'€™s been doing well at the plate. Napoli, who is notorious for striking at a high rate, has cut down on the whiffs. He'€™s also been drawing more free passes. In 47 plate appearances this month, Napoli'€™s strikeout total is just barely higher than his walk total, with 12 and 11, respectively. Napoli definitely is getting hot at the perfect time for the surging Sox, batting a ridiculous .417/.553/.944 in 13 games this month. '€¢ Since returning from almost three months away from game action, Clay Buchholz truly has not skipped a beat. The righty improved to 11-0 and shaved his ERA down to a truly impressive 1.51 in 14 starts. Buchholz has won five straight games dating back to May 22, prior to his injury. Over those five games, Buchholz has allowed just three earned runs in 29 2/3 innings. Since coming off the disabled list, he'€™s allowed only one run, which was unearned, and has struck out nine. Buchholz labored a bit in his last start, having to work around four walks in six innings of work. '€¢ Dustin Pedroia is adjusting nicely to his new spot in the lineup. Since taking over the leadoff spot in the absence of Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia has hit safely in six straight games, going 8-for-26 and scoring six runs. Though Pedroia has driven in only four runs this month, he'€™s been able to get on base at a .372 clip over his last nine games. WHO'S HOT: ORIOLES '€¢  With his 50th home run and 40th double, Chris Davis joined elite company. He became only the third player in major league history to hit the two milestones in the same season, joining Albert Belle and the great Babe Ruth. He tied Brady Anderson for the Orioles franchise record for home runs in a season, and became the first player in the majors to club 50 home runs since Jose Bautista accomplished the feat in 2010. Davis'€™ home run pace has slowed slightly this month with three in his last 15 games, but he'€™s brought his RBI total to 131, good for second in the majors behind only Miguel Cabrera. '€¢ Danny Valencia, who spent a brief 10 games with the Red Sox last season, has had a bit of a resurgence with the Orioles. Serving primarily as the DH, Valencia has hit .469/.480/.796 with three home runs and seven doubles in 14 games since Aug. 19, driving in 11 runs. Some of his hits have been meaningful ones, including a two-run double to fuel the Orioles'€™ 3-1 win over the Blue Jays on Sunday. '€¢ After an ugly 5-for-28 stretch to round out August, shortstop J.J. Hardy has found his swing again. Hardy has been hot since the very first day of September, kicking off a six-game hit streak. Overall this month, he'€™s put up a .352/.407/.556 line, clubbing five doubles and two home runs while driving in six. Even more impressive is the fact that he'€™s struck out just one time in 59 plate appearances this month while drawing five walks. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Will Middlebrooks shared the Co-Player of the Week honors with Napoli for his performance in the first week of the month, but he'€™s struggled since. The third baseman doesn'€™t have a hit in the last two series, fighting through an 0-for-17 slump in his past five games. He'€™s been unable to draw a walk in those five games, though he does have a RBI. Despite the recent rough patch, Middlebrooks is still batting .308/.371/.519 since Aug. 10, when he was recalled from Triple-A. '€¢  While Pedroia has served as an adequate replacement for Ellsbury at the top of the lineup, Jackie Bradley Jr.'€™s bat hasn'€™t been picking up the slack. Since his recall on Sept. 7, Bradley has gone 3-for-20 (.150) with two walks, scoring three times. Bradley has struggled for the most part in his four major league stints this season, hitting .154/.258/.282 in 29 games. It's worth mentioning, however, that Bradley has played a solid center field, allowing Shane Victorino to remain in right field for the majority of the time. '€¢ Jonny Gomes has been quiet with the bat recently, batting .214 over his last six games. But although Gomes hasn'€™t been getting many hits, he continues to find ways to reach base, drawing three walks in his last 17 plate appearances and posting a .353 OBP over those six games. WHO'S NOT: ORIOLES '€¢ Though he'€™s having an impressive campaign for being just 21 years old, Manny Machado has been going through a slump at the plate this month. The third baseman is hitting just .194/.206/.343 with four doubles and two home runs in his last 15 games, dropping his line to .288/.316/.442 in 149 games this season. Machado still leads the league with 50 doubles. '€¢ Hunter has generally been solid this season for the Orioles, but the hard-throwing righty has been a little shaky recently. Hunter has given up five earned runs in his last 10 1/3 innings, giving up runs in four of his last 10 outings. Despite that, he'€™s been posting outrageous strikeout-to-walk numbers, fanning 16 in his last 10 innings while walking only one. Hunter has been one of the most-used arms out of the Orioles bullpen this season, and for good reason -- he'€™s got a 2.82 ERA and WHIP under 1.000 in 79 2/3 innings this year. '€¢ Matt Wieters has had a down year offensively, and things haven'€™t been going well for him lately. The catcher hasn'€™t recorded a multi-hit game since Sept. 5 and has hit just .179 in nine games since then. He does have one home run in those nine games, just his third extra-base hit of the month. But even though Wieters hasn'€™t been doing much with his bat, he'€™s been a force behind the dish, throwing out 38 percent of runners, well above the league average of 26 percent.