By Matt Straub
Perhaps the most difficult thing for a baseball fan to come to grips with is the grind of the long year. We want to overreact to bad losses or even winning streaks. The Boston Red Sox have allowed their fans to overreact to just about everything this year, whether it’s three series wins to start the year or some blowout losses which make everyone forget all the good things which have happened so far.
With such an up-and-down nature to the year, it’s hard to remember Boston is 6-3 and in first place in the AL East. The Red Sox, however, face another big test from the Orioles, whose abilities the Yankees can already attest to, starting tonight. Let’s break down an early-season division showdown at Fenway.
Baltimore Orioles (5-4, 3rd Place AL East)
at Boston Red Sox (6-3, 1st place AL East)
Friday, 7:10 p.m.
Ubaldo Jimenez (1-0, 0.00) vs. Joe Kelly (1-0, 1.29)
Saturday 4:05 p.m.
Chris Tillman (1-1, 7.71) vs. Clay Buchholz (1-1, 7.84)
Sunday, 1:35 p.m.
Wei-Yei Chen (0-0, 4.35) vs. Rick Porcello (1-1, 3.86)
In the big picture, the Red Sox have plenty, having won each of their first three series of the year and getting off to a roaring start. On the micro level, however, the Red Sox continue to struggle taking momentum into the next series, having been blasted in a series finale again, this time Wednesday by the Nationals. Boston has a habit of getting blown out when it loses, and doing so in a series finale takes away some of the good feeling of winning the first two. The day off before this series comes at an interesting time, either taking away some juice from the rolling Sox or helping them recover, particulary in the bullpen, from Wednesday's beating. The Orioles, meanwhile, are coming off a solid series win over the Yankees, giving them some much-needed momentum after a less than stellar start to the year. They were a stunning Stephen Drew grand slam away from a sweep, but they’ll take a series victory. In the long term they’ll have to be better than .500 at home, but for now they’ll take 5-4 and a chance to move closer to Boston this weekend.
Three Red Sox Storylines
1. Clay Buchholz’s mental status will be fascinating to try and determine Saturday. There are rumblings along the league indicating players were as frustrated as I was over the way Buchholz appeared to stop trying Sunday night in New York, and he needs to show he has some leadership capabilities, especially if he wants to be the ace. More succinct, he just needs to pitch better.
2. The bloom is off the rose for the Red Sox’ rotation. Not counting Porcello’s acceptable outing Monday, Boston’s starters have allowed 23 earned runs in just over 10 innings, an ERA over 18. Porcello has been decent but not spectacular, and Wade Miley and Justin Masterson were each awful in their last start. Only Joe Kelly has looked like a star so far. It’s one turn through the rotation, but the ship is taking on water. Fortunately Boston’s offense has been saving the day.
3. Mookie Betts has arrived. Expect many more games like Monday, when he stole two bases on one play, made a ridiculous catch in center and hit a three-run homer. And then the third inning started.
Three Orioles To Know
1. Ubaldo Jimenez’s days as an ace are over, but he made changes to his delivery in the offseason which seem to be paying off. He was good in his last start in Toronto, and could fit right in with the Orioles’ rotation full of guys you’ve never heard of or didn’t realize were good, but who all deliver on a regular basis. He was awful last year and seems motivated to help this time around.
2. Chris Davis is one of the most up-and-down players in the world. He can be a hit machine and crush the ball 500 feet, or go four days without reaching first base. How the Red Sox handle him, particularly with men on base, will be crucial in this series.
3. If Manny Machado can ever stay healthy, we’ll get to watch one of the best young players in baseball. He’s a question mark these days, but for now he’s on the field and a potential threat. He’s still trying to regain his form, struggling early, but he’s dangerous.
A trip to the house of horrors, Tampa Bay, awaits Boston after this series, putting even more emphasis on winning a home series first.