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The second half-opening trip to Toronto and Texas looked like a tough one and proved to be far worse than expected. The whole offense seems to have fallen into a slump at the same time, prompting the Red Sox to finally cut loose Julio Lugo, and miraculously, find someone to actually trade for him, and also acquired Adam LaRoche, who should help against righties.
The skid, combined with the Yankees recent winning ways, has dropped the Red Sox into second and the Rays’ footsteps behind them are getting louder. They will face the division’s cellar-dwelling Orioles over the weekend, a team that usually helps the Sox get back on track. The Red Sox are 6-1 against their mid-Atlantic foes, including 4-0 in Boston. In what was perhaps a precursor to the struggles that would ensue, the last time these teams played, Baltimore recorded its best ever comeback in an 11-10 win in an utter collapse of the Sox bullpen. But, the Red Sox took the series with a comeback of their own in a 6-5 11-inning win the following day.
Brad Penny (1 GS, 3.0 IP, 8ER, 6H, 5BB, 1K vs BAL this season) will try to get the Red Sox back on the rails against Brad Bergesen (6-4, 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP), who pitched eight great innings, allowing only a single run, but took a no decision in that Red Sox comeback win last month. Jon Lester, who has dominated the Orioles in 2009 (2GS, 2-0, 14.0IP, 0ER, 9H, 2BB, 17K), will face Jeremy Guthrie (7-8, 5,12, 1,36) in the middle game. Guthrie is coming off his best start of the season, but had trouble with the Red Sox in April (5ER in 4.2IP). John Smoltz (1GS, 4.0IP, 1ER, 3H, 1BB, 2K) was the starter in the 11-10 loss and left early due to the rain delay, and faces rookie David Hernandez (2-2, 3.55, 1.47), who has never faced the Red Sox before.
On the whole, the Baltimore staff is pretty bad, mainly due to their starting pitching. The team has the third worst ERA in the majors and the starters post the fewest quality starts which is why their bullpen is near the top in innings pitched. The fault certainly cannot be placed on closer George Sherill, who looked to be the lead figure in a committee formed when he was invariably going to fail. The lefty is 20/23 in save opportunities with 38K’s in 39.1 innings (8.69 K/9) with a 2.52 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. His last blown save was against the Red Sox (the 6-5 comeback win), but recorded the save in the 11-10 Oriole comeback and also threw a scoreless inning in a 2-1 Red Sox win in Boston earlier.
The Orioles may look completely different by the time August rolls around with them out of the race and having some interesting assets, including Sherrill. Aubrey Huff (.254 BA, 11 HR, 57 RBI, 39 R) was rumored to be headed somewhere, including Boston, and Melvin Mora (.266, 3, 26, 25) and/or Luke Scott (.290, 18, 53, 41) could be on the move as well, as they re-tool (I will not say rebuilding as when was the last time they were not?) with a youth movement centered around Adam Jones (.307, 14, 52, 60), Matt Wieters (.244, 3, 10, 10), and Nolan Reimold (.259, 9, 22, 24). Brian Roberts (.280, 8, 43, 69, 20 SB) and Nick Markakis (.295, 11. 63. 59) are key veterans that will help form the core. The movement is probably for the best as the Orioles are remarkably average offensively almost any way they are measured, so an influx of younger talent or prospects could grow up together.
The Orioles, and returning to Fenway, might be just what the doctor ordered for the Red Sox to get right offensively. The Orioles, for as lowly ranked their pitching staff is, actually do not walk hitters at a high rate, but give up plenty of hits instead. Lester certainly has to be relishing this start as he looks to keep his scoreless inning streak alive against the Birds, while Penny and Smoltz each look to have something to prove based on their recent starts. The Red Sox should win this series and hopefully get the offense or one of the back-end starters back on track.