Mar 31, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Fans wait in line to enter the gates on Eutaw Street prior to an opening day game between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles Welcome Red Sox to Oriole Park

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The Baltimore Orioles today begin a three-game series with their division foe, the Boston Red Sox.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this: I’m actually glad to see the Red Sox come to town. After the recent weeks with the crazy travel schedule and all the odd games that have happened – particularly yesterday with the A’s – it will look good to see something more normal and familiar.

I just used the word “normal” and “Red Sox” in the same paragraph!

Oh boy … I just used the word “normal” and “Red Sox” in the same paragraph! Did they shave?

At this time of the year, I only look at the standings about once a week. I may see them in the course of perusing things, but the most important task is to win as many games as possible, and then see where that positions the Baltimore Orioles for the final third of the season over the last two months.

But right now, the Orioles are in second place behind the surprising Jays by 5.5 games. And they are a half-game up on the Yanks and 3.5 ahead of the Sox. So Boston enters the series nine games behind the Jays and with a record of 28-34.

If we think the season has been a strange one in Baltimore, well, it has even been more unusual in Boston. Around Charm City, we are discouraged by Orioles inconsistencies. The Red Sox have had a 10-game losing streak, followed by a seven-game winning streak, followed by a five-game losing streak … and then they won yesterday 5-3 over the Tigers.

Six of the 34 losses have been of the “walk-off” variety. That is painful. By comparison, this has only happened twice to the Orioles this season.

For the opener today, Bud Norris will take his 4-5, 4.41 ERA to the hill against the Red Sox, who have beaten him once this year back on April 19th.  After a series of very good starts, Norris has been touched for 13 runs in his past 17 innings over three games – two of which he escaped with victories. In four career games against the Sox he is 0-2 with a 4.56 ERA.

The Baltimore Orioles will face Jake Peavy who is 1-3 with a 5.25 ERA. The O’s got five runs on 10 hits and four walks off him on April 20th.

Nelson Cruz is 4-for-11 with two doubles and a homer off Peavy. Nick Markakis is 3-for-10 and Adam Jones 4-for-9. Perhaps we’ll see the heating-up David Lough in left field, as he is 2-for-6 with a double. On the other hand, Chris Davis is 0-for-7 and J.J. Hardy 2-for-19.

On the FanSided Network’s site for the Boston Red Sox (called BoSox Injection), my friend and colleague there, Pete Sonski, asked me to comment on a few questions. It is always interesting to see how one’s team is seen from the outside, and the whole article can be found here; and this is what I wrote for him…

To the surprise of few, the Orioles are proving themselves contenders in the American League East Division. The fact that they are doing it the manner they are has been a surprise though. What is unique about this 2014 team that has it continually posting wins?

The question has a more positive tone than is the feeling in Oriole-land. After 61 games, the Orioles are only one game over .500, and this is not the O’s team that most Baltimore fans thought they were going to see this year.

This has been a season of ups and downs, highs and lows, with a regular dose of inconsistency that is very frustrating to watch. The pitching has been very sketchy; the Birds will lose one night 8-6 and then the next evening by 2-1.

There is an argument to be made that with the numbers of injuries to key players, that honestly not much more than a 31-30 record could be reasonably expected. On the other hand, the Orioles are far from alone in that respect, and a feeling exists that an early-season opportunity has been missed to put some distance on other AL East teams with even greater roster troubles.

The bullpen has been one of the stronger components of the team. Who has emerged this year to lead its success?

Two of the relievers have been having highly successful seasons: Zach Britton (0.83 ERA over 32.2 innings) and Darren O’Day (1.01 ERA over 26.2 innings). Ryan Webb (2.70) has also done well in most situations, while Brian Matusz – even with a 4.09 ERA – has been effective in stranding inherited runners at a high level.

The rest of the bullpen has been a mixed bag of results, with many comings and goings. They get called upon a lot – too much – and some of the numbers are inflated by overuse and bad circumstances.

Tommy Hunter will be returning to the team and activated for this series after a couple of weeks on the DL. He really did not get the job done as a closer, and that role now appears to belong to Zach Britton.

Many O’s fans would like to see Britton moved back into his earlier career role as a starter, but I don’t think that is in the cards for this season.

The Nelson Cruz free agent signing has made Dan Duquette look like a genius. What else has the GM done to put this team in the running after such a long stretch of mediocrity?

Yes, Cruz at $8-million has proven to be a good deal. He has likely saved the Orioles from a certain devastating early-season fate of losing. This is offset however by the four-year, $50-million deal for Ubaldo Jimenez which has not worked out at all. The O’s have only won three of the 13 games he has started, including today’s (Sunday) disaster with six runs and five walks in 2.1 innings. Ugh!

Duquette has been often criticized for so many small moves that he makes. He has gained a nickname here (not sure if he ever had this in Boston) of “DDDD” or “4-D” which stands for Dumpster Diving Dan Duquette. But honestly, many of those “depth” moves have paid off, especially with injuries that abound. He is gaining more respect over time.

Matt Wieters‘ injury is the big question mark hanging over this team still. If Wieters is shut down for the season, what is the likely impact both on the field and in the clubhouse?

It is difficult to replace one of the premier defensive catchers in the game. And though his offensive production had gone down year after year, he was off to an awesome start on the season before this elbow injury took him out. He is such a fine person that it truly is a sad event.

Caleb Joseph (an older rookie) has recently been getting most of the time behind the plate. He had an incredible season in the minors last year with great power numbers. But he was seen as a defensive liability. Now, he has played extraordinarily well behind the plate, yet has been slow to hit for much – though that seems to be turning around for him as well in recent games.

The Orioles recently added Johan Santana to the 40-man roster only to see him suffer a season-ending Achilles injury within days of the move. There is still more pitching depth in the team’s system though. Who are the likely prospects to get the call to the big leagues and might the Red Sox see them soon? 

The first call has already been made, and that was to Kevin Gausman who pitched a gem on Saturday. So the Sox will not see him in this series. Gausman was a recent first-round choice, and the Orioles have been limiting his pitch counts early in the season to about 75 a game – all with a view toward him helping down the stretch. I would guess his time has arrived.

The other stud in the minors – Dylan Bundy – is returning from Tommy John surgery. He is about ready to begin games rehab and he may be available for the final 8-10 weeks of the season.

Beyond that, there are not a lot of clear choices for the Orioles. They really need the current rotation to live up to their potential – some days they do, but others they are downright awful.

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Tags: Baltimore Orioles Bud Norris

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