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Monday, 08 April 2013 04:02

Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles (3-3) vs. Boston Red Sox (4-2)

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Once the pomp and circumstance of the Red Sox’ home opener is completed on Monday afternoon, there is a game to be played between the local nine and the defending AL Wild Card Champion Baltimore Orioles. The matinee is the first of a three-game set that will set the tone for what is likely to be a competitive season series between the two division rivals.

After series wins in New York and Toronto that were punctuated by a 13-0 throbbing of the Blue Jays on Sunday, the (4-2) Sox head back to Fenway to begin a six-game homestand that will kick off a stretch in which seventeen of the team’s next twenty games will be played at Fenway Park. While playing in front of the Fenway faithful is always advantageous for Red Sox teams, this year’s crew includes nine newcomers who will find the comfort zone of playing at home especially beneficial.

The Orioles have gotten off to a bit of a rocky start in 2013, and head into Fenway with a (3-3) record after dropping two at home to the hapless Minnesota Twins. Led by strong starts by Adam Jones (.538/0 HR/7 RBI) and the red-hot Chris Davis (.455/4 HR/17 RBI), the Orioles are expected to score plenty this season, but their starting pitching will likely be a recurring problem throughout the season. With no clear ace in the rotation, it will surprise many if Baltimore can repeat its surprising 2012 season and get back to the playoffs.

In the first game of the set, RHP Clay Buchholz, who was excellent in his first start against the Yankees, will face LHP Wei-Yin Chen, who took a no-decision in his first outing in Tampa Bay. After an unusual off-day on Tuesday, the teams will be back at it on Wednesday night, as Ryan Dempster makes his Red Sox home debut against RHP Jake Arrieta, who also took a no-decision in his first appearance. The series wraps up on Thursday night, as lefty Felix Doubront will take the mound against young righty Chris Tillman, who struggled mightily in his first outing of the season.

Storylines to Watch:

Red Sox starters going deeper in games: In their first starts, both Dempster and Doubront did not make it out of the sixth inning, which caused the strong Red Sox bullpen to eat many innings on the first road trip. The team hopes that both starters will be able to go deeper in games as the season progresses.

Stephen Drew coming back from injury: Red Sox’s shortstop Stephen Drew will likely be ready to make his Sox debut on either Wednesday or Thursday, which would likely mean hot-hitting shortstop Jose Iglesias would be sent down to Pawtucket. Iglesias, who leads the team in batting average at a .529 clip, has been the biggest surprise out of the gate for the Red Sox, but will likely be sent down regardless of his performance.

Early struggles ending: Three Red Sox starters are below the Mendoza line as the team heads back to Fenway, with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia hitting at .188, first baseman Mike Napoli at .179, and rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. at .143. Because Saltalamacchia and Napoli have historically hit better at Fenway, expect them to break out of their early season slumps this week. As for Bradley, he will continue to see major league pitching for the first time and learn from his early-season mistakes in an effort to be offensively productive on this homestand.

Mauro Gomez DFA situation: First baseman Mauro Gomez, who was designated for assignment last Sunday, will know his fate by Wednesday at the latest. The long-time minor leaguer will be claimed off waivers or traded to another team, released, or outrighted to AAA Pawtucket. With the Miami Marlins in dire need of a first baseman, Gomez could be a fit there. The most likely case is that Gomez passes through waivers and is outrighted by the Red Sox early this week.

How serious is the Lackey injury? After an MRI on his injured right arm, John Lackey will know more about his near future as the week progresses. While the team downplayed the injury and attributed it to the biceps area, fears are still present that the surgically-repaired elbow may be affected, in which case a more serious treatment program would be put in place. Lackey would be slated to pitch Friday against Tampa Bay, but the off-day allows the Sox to skip his spot in the rotation and go with a four-man crew if he only needs a week to rest. Spot starter options include minor league lefty Chris Hernandez, knuckleballer Steven Wright, or Alfredo Aceves, who has been the weakest member of the team’s bullpen to this point. According to John Tomase of the Boston Herald, promoting Aceves to the rotation is the most likely scenario.

Red Sox Interested in Aaron Harang: Another potential Lackey replacement is right-handed starter Aaron Harang, who began the season with the Dodgers but was traded to the Rockies on Saturday. The Rockies immediately designated Harang for assignment, and are looking to trade him within the next ten days. According to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Red Sox are interested in trading for the veteran, along with the Astros and Twins. While the Sox may just be doing due diligence, the preliminary interest in Harang may indicate that the team is continually looking for pitching depth in fear of a severe injury to Lackey.