Red Sox-Orioles series preview

September 27, 2013 - 6:40 am

After a brief stop in Colorado, the Red Sox are in Baltimore to wrap up the regular-season schedule, finishing with three games against the Orioles before a four-day break leading up to the American League Division Series, which begins Oct. 4 at Fenway Park. The Red Sox put a little bit of space between them and the A's in the race for the top seed in the American League. Any combination of two Boston wins or Oakland losses would secure home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs. "It's something that's another goal that guys have in front of them, it's a motivator inside of a game to finish out strong and put together a strong game and play a good brand of baseball," manager John Farrell said of the quest for home-field advantage. "That's what we hope to do on this trip. And to finish out this season with the best record would be a further statement that these guys are making." With a split in the two-game series against the Rockies, the Red Sox improved to 15-7 in the month of September. The Orioles are one of the only teams that have had the Red Sox' number this season, however. Baltimore is the only AL East club with a winning record against the Sox, and handed them their only series loss of the month when they took two of three games during the last regular-season homestand at Fenway. The Orioles don't have much to play for these days besides the chance to spoil the Red Sox' chances at the league's best record. Baltimore was eliminated from the postseason on Tuesday evening with an extra-innings loss to the Blue Jays, their fifth straight loss at the time after dropping the final game in Boston and getting swept by the Rays. "It's tough because, when we got there last year, we didn't just expect to be there again this year," left fielder Nate McLouth said after the Orioles were eliminated. "It's tough to get to the playoffs, and being in one of the toughest divisions probably makes it a little tougher. Having that be your expectation and your goal, for it to not come to be is disappointing, because it's such a long season and we go through so many ups and downs. And with that being the ultimate goal, now that's out of there, so it's a tough night." Although they've won their past two contests, the Orioles lost one of their most impactful players during the series against Tampa Bay when Manny Machado went down with an ugly knee injury. Fortunately for the O's, the 21-year-old star, who was having an outstanding season in his first full year, was diagnosed with an injury that won't require surgery, and he should be ready to return by spring training. Here are the pitching matchups for the final series of the regular season. Friday: Clay Buchholz (11-1, 1.60) vs. Scott Feldman (12-11, 3.51) Saturday: Jon Lester (15-8, 3.67) vs. Wei-Yin Chen (7-7, 4.03) Sunday: John Lackey (10-13, 3.52) vs. Chris Tillman (16-7, 3.62) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ Jarrod Saltalamacchia continues to have his best offensive season to date, and has shown no signs of fading down the stretch. There's a high chance that Saltalamacchia finishes with the highest batting average of his career (if only full seasons are considered), coming into the series with a .272 average. He's set career highs in doubles (39, second among major league catchers), RBIs (64), hits (114), runs scored (66), walks (43) and OPS (.804). He extended a nine-game hitting streak with a four-hit game on Wednesday. Over the course of the streak, he's batting .424 with four doubles and three home runs. Saltalamacchia also has set a career high in stolen bases, swiping four total and three in his last nine games. Prior to this season, he had stolen just one base. '€¢ Shane Victorino has been dealing with some bumps and bruises, but that hasn't slowed him down. Victorino is 10-for-26 in his last eight games and hitting .321 with three home runs and three doubles over his last 14 contests. Even though Victorino has drawn only two walks this month, he's been hit by seven pitches, which leads the league. He's been hit with a total of 14 on the season and has seen that number go up since switching to batting right-handed full time. '€¢ Craig Breslow continues to be lights-out in the late innings for the Sox, and he now has gone nine straight innings without allowing a run, giving up just three hits in that span, although he's walked four batters. The lefty has been phenomenal in the second half, giving up just one run since July 22, allowing 10 hits in 23 2/3 innings and posting a 0.38 ERA. Breslow certainly has proven to be an effective eighth-inning set-up man, despite the fact that he doesn't have overpowering stuff and doesn't strike out many batters, averaging just under five strikeouts per nine innings. WHO'S HOT: ORIOLES  '€¢ Closer Jim Johnson has had an up-and-down season, and he is riding a hot streak. Johnson has put together 14 consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run, giving up an unearned run, 11 hits and one walk while striking out 13 batters. Prior to the streak, Johnson had given up runs in four straight outings. Overall, the righty has earned 48 saves in 57 opportunities with a 2.90 ERA in 72 appearances. '€¢ Matt Wieters went deep for the 21st time this season on Thursday night and now has hit 20-plus home runs in each of his last three seasons. Though Wieters' on-base numbers have slipped in 2013, he's shown excellent power, clubbing 29 doubles in addition to the 21 home runs. The catcher is 10 for his last 30 with five RBIs in his last seven games. Wieters is hitting .234/.286/.419 with 78 runs driven in this season. '€¢ Prospect Jonathan Schoop made his major league debut on Wednesday and it was an impressive one. The second baseman went 2-for-3 with a walk and a solo home run. The rookie's second day didn't go quite as smoothly, however, with an 0-for-3 day at the plate and an error in the field. Schoop was ranked the Orioles' third-best prospect at the end of the 2012 season, and he hit .256/.301/.396 with nine home runs in 70 games for Triple-A Norfolk this season. A native of Curacao, the 21-year-old grew up occasionally playing against Red Sox rookie Xander Bogaerts. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Brandon Workman had the shakiest outing of his young career on Tuesday, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk in just one-third of an inning. The right-hander may have been rusty, going six days between appearances thanks to a crowded bullpen. Prior to Tuesday, Workman had appeared to be most effective in short stints out of the bullpen, posting a 3.60 ERA in outings that were an inning or less, while his ERA shoots to 6.75 in multi-inning relief outings. Overall, Workman has compiled a 5.05 ERA (7.15 in relief) and 1.439 WHIP in 41 innings in the majors this season. '€¢ Dustin Pedroia is dealing with a brief slump, going 1-for-14 with a single and a strikeout. The second baseman saw his 10-game hit streak snapped on Saturday when he received the day off until a pinch-hitting appearance in the seventh inning. With the return of Jacoby Ellsbury to the Red Sox lineup, Pedroia moves back down the the three-hole, though he might miss hitting leadoff. Pedroia was a more-than-adequate replacement at the top of the lineup, batting .327 in 49 at-bats there. '€¢ Daniel Nava hasn't made much noise at the plate since his four-hit game against the Yankees earlier this month. Nava, who has been getting the chance to play just about every day with the absence of Ellsbury, is 5-for-31 in his last eight games with one extra-base hit and only one walk. Nava could very well finish the season with a batting average north of .300, currently hitting .296/.380/.491 with the third-highest OPS on the team at .815. WHO'S NOT: ORIOLES '€¢ Adam Jones has been quiet lately, batting .182 in his last 11 games, driving in four runs and striking out 15 times. However, Jones has put together a very solid campaign in 2013, tying his career high in home runs with 32 and setting a new high in RBIs with 106 with a .285/.319/.491 line on the season. '€¢ The acquisition of outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse has not panned out well for the Orioles. Morse has just three hits since coming over from the Mariners and has been without a hit in his last 10 games (22 at-bats). He's drawn only one walk since joining the O's and has yet to drive in a run. Morse has had a rough season at the plate, batting .215/.270/.381 in 88 games between the two clubs. '€¢ Nate McLouth has hits in four straight contests, but the outfielder is without a multi-hit game since Sept. 13. Over his last 26 games, McLouth is batting just .198, though seven of his 17 hits have gone for extra bases. Despite the slump to close out the season, McLouth has managed to replicate his 2012 numbers for the most part, batting .260/.332/.402 with 12 home runs, 30 doubles and 30 steals.