Boston (41-26) is coming off taking 2 of 3 from the Tampa Bay Rays extending their lead in the AL East to 3 games. On the heels of some good pitching and timely offense over the past month or so, Baltimore (37-29) is just a half game back of second place and trails the Red Sox by 3.5 games. Tonight both of these teams begin a 4 games series at Camden Yards, and that could make the structure of the division look all the more interesting when the smoke clears.
On a day where David Ortiz confirmed he was through with the Home Run Derby competition during the All Star Break, not too many Boston fans could complain with what big papi has done even after missing the first few weeks of the season with a heel injury. Ortiz leads the Red Sox with 13 HR and is second in batting average (.309) and RBI (48) heading into action this evening. Citing being fatigued and worn out all the more quickly, most probably couldn't agree more around the slugger as he tries to bring Boston back to the postseason. Dustin Pedroia (.327 4 38) has been clutch all season picking up game saving hits and leading the Sox in runs with 45. Mike Napoli (.259 9 49) is tops on the club in RBIs but must cut down on his 93 strikeouts in just 243 AB. Daniel Nava (.299 9 44) hit the game winning HR last night in Tampa and outfielder Mike Carp (.330 6 22) is surging at the plate taking advantage of opportunity.
This does not bode well for top prospect Kevin Gausman who the Orioles send to the hill this evening. After making it clear that Baltimore shows no interest in trading Gausman (0-3 8.84), he once again may have his hands full trying to put together a solid outing against one of the league's more potent and balanced offenses. Boston is hitting .273 collectively and averages about 5.2 runs per contest. In Gausman's last start, he gave up 7 ER in 4.3 IP with 6 K's. Given Gausman's misfortunes and inability to put together quick innings, a trip to AAA Norfolk could be inevitable regardless of how much run support the O's provide him with.
Speaking of offensive support, don't tell Boston starter Felix Doubront (4-3 4.84) he doesn't need any considering the Sox haven't scored more than 2 runs in 6 of his last 7 starting outings. Doubront comes off a loss at Fenway on Saturday to Anaheim 9-5 despite giving up just 3 ER in 6 IP. While the 6'3" southpaw searches for consistency in order to get back on the winning track, he faces a Baltimore lineup who like Boston is hitting .273 and leads the majors in HR with 88. Chris Davis (.338 21 54) homered last night for the first time in 9 games but still leads the majors in that department while second in RBI. Adam Jones (.301 14 45) sets up Davis nicely in the middle part of the lineup and is putting up All-Star caliber numbers. JJ Hardy (.267 13 39) has seen his average rise 32 points in June where he has gone 15/29 (.517) during the month of Jun. Manny Machado (.317 5 34) has also proven to be a tough out at the top of the lineup while Nick Markakis (.293 7 38) has played up to his potential after a slow start out of the gate.
Another relatively high line with a reasonable price means we may have caught the books with another fly in the ointment. We know both teams can go toe to toe in a slugfest, and where better than one of the more hitter friendly ballparks like Camden Yards. Doubront has fallen on some hard times and could have won some games he's lost thanks to little offensive support. Gausman is just looking to land a respectable start that could perhaps get him over the hump when it comes to reliability. While the ball may not carry as well this evening due to some recent fog and heavy rains, both pitchers may need to be economical and make quality pitches or it could be a big night for the offenses kicking off this long series. Best of luck however you play!