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Why are the Orioles so much trouble for the Red Sox?

Posted by David D'Onofrio  July 26, 2013 04:00 PM

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Back in March of 2011, with the Orioles on the heels of five straight 90-loss seasons, Baltimore Manager Buck Showalter blasted the Red Sox in a Men's Journal article, telling the magazine that he took particular pleasure in “whipping their butts” because of Boston’s sizable payroll.

That summer his team literally tried to do that, with a confrontation between Kevin Gregg and David Ortiz emptying the benches. And since that September, the Orioles pretty much have.

Since beating the Sox in five of seven meetings that month, and ultimately delivering the death blow in baseball’s most brutal late-season collapse, Baltimore is 23-9 against Boston as the two sides begin a three-game series at Camden Yards on Friday night – with the Orioles having the opportunity to knock the Sox from first place.

So why have Showalter’s Birds been such a thorn? With charts showing the Orioles have individually performed against the Sox since the start of 2012, here's a look at some of the traits, trends, facts and factors that have gone into those results. (It's been more than just tough talk and bravado, obviously.):

The Orioles have owned the close games.
There’s no shame here, as last year the O’s were among the best teams of all-time in tight games, but of Baltimore’s 23 wins over Boston during this span, only three have come by more than three runs.

The Orioles are 6-4 in one-run contests, 13-6 in two-run tilts, and 5-0 in extra innings, all of which are credits to their bullpen and to their ability to generally keep things close. Only twice have the Red Sox been able to beat them by more than three runs.

Indicative of how things have gone in this regard, too, is that the Sox led all three games of April's set at Fenway Park in the seventh inning or later -- and lost two of three in the series, most memorably because of a Joel Hanrahan implosion that allowed the Orioles to strike for five runs in the ninth.

Baltimore has been explosive offensively.
In more than half of their meetings since September 2011 -- 17 of 32 -- the Orioles have scored at least six runs in a game against the Red Sox. On the contrary, the Sox have been limited to three runs or less in 16 of those games. Averaged out, Baltimore is outscoring Boston 5.3-4.3 during this stretch.

Thus far this season, Sox pitchers have done a better job against the Orioles, lowering their collective ERA from 4.60 in 2012 to 3.62 in 2013. And if you're a Sox fan looking for an even more positive spin on those numbers, consider that of the pitchers who had an ERA worse than 2.57 during the first seven games against Baltimore this season, five of six won't pitch this weekend, while Friday starter John Lackey and Saturday starter Ryan Dempster have yielded a total of five earned runs in three starts against Baltimore.

Red Sox vs Orioles.xlsx

Jon Lester has struggled.
The question mark in the Sox rotation comes on Sunday, then. Lester began his career 14-0 with a 2.36 ERA against the O's, but is 0-2 with a 5.25 ERA over the past two seasons. In five innings at Camden last month he surrendered five runs and nine hits, so his next outing should be a test of the improved approach he seemed to make in his last appearance.

Ortiz has been bad.
The Sox' designated hitter is just 6-for-52 against the Orioles since the start of 2012, equating to a .115 average -- and among Boston's supposed stars he's not alone in his struggles, this season at least. In 2013, Dustin Pedroia is hitting .182 against Baltimore, and Jacoby Ellsbury is hitting .167.

As a team, the Red Sox are hitting just .194 against Baltimore. That's a full 80 points lower than they're batting for the season, though it should be noted that the Sox are hitting .206 on balls in play, which suggests some of it has been tough luck.

Chris Tillman has been excellent.
The 25-year-old right-hander made his first All-Star team earlier this month, though he's been worthy of that distinction for almost two years as far as the Red Sox are concerned. Over five starts he's yet to yield more than three earned runs, compiling a 1.80 ERA over 30 innings in which he's allowed 1.10 walks and hits per frame. (Click here to see how the Sox have hit him individually.)

Tillman starts for Baltimore on Friday, and Sunday starter Jason Hammel has put together a 2.31 in two games against Boston the past couple years, so if the best chance for the Sox bats may come Saturday with Scott Feldman. He's had trouble with several of their hitters in the past, while with Texas.

Jim Johnson has been almost automatic.
The major-league leader in saves (35) has converted 14 of 15 opportunities against the Sox since that infamous September, and most of them haven't even involved the beginnings of a threat. He was perfect in both his chances at the end of 2011, and over 2012 and '13 he's allowed just six hits in 17 inning. Without a walk. While striking out 14.

His ERA is 1.06. His batting average against is .107. His on-base percentage is .123. And his WHIP is 0.35. He's had moments of difficulty this season, as his 2-7 record would indicate, but he carries a ton of confidence into facing the Red Sox.

Red Sox vs Orioles.xlsx

The Orioles have controlled the Sox' running game.
O's catcher Matt Wieters has gunned down 44 percent of would-be basestealers this season, and the Sox can attest to how tough it is to run on him and the Baltimore pitching staff. Since the start of 2012, Boston has been caught stealing 12 times against Baltimore. Only seven steal attempts have been successful.

It might not seem to be a major point, but the Sox and Ellsbury are the AL's team and individual leaders in stolen bases.

Boston was first on the "Fear Chris Davis" bandwagon.
It wasn't until 2013 that Chris Davis caught everybody's attention by putting up monster power numbers. But the Sox could apparently see it coming, as they intentionally walked him three times in 2012. And with good reason.

Over the past two seasons, the slugger has eight home runs and a .310/.384/.621/1.005 slash line against the Sox -- who've also walked him intentionally twice more this year. He has struck out 25 times in 23 games, and hasn't homered against anybody since the All-Star break, but he's still plenty fearsome.

Plus, if the Orioles need a pitcher, he's also got a couple scoreless innings against the Sox to his credit.

Manny Machado is emerging as a Red Sox killer.
The stud third baseman has played in only 16 games, though that's been enough for him to accumulate 24 hits, eight doubles and a couple of homers. Given that he just turned 21, the Sox can only hope he doesn't keep that up for the next 15 years against them.

Boston has, however, done a decent job of handling the three Orioles other than Davis and Machado who have been All-Stars over the past two seasons. Adam Jones has driven in 17 runs against the Sox, but he, Wieters, and J.J. Hardy have all hit no better than .248 with a .301 OBP.

At least Mark Reynolds and Robert Andino are gone.
Reynolds, now in Cleveland, tormented the Red Sox a season ago, blasting six homers and driving home 16 in 15 games. He also drew 10 walks and added five doubles, all adding up to an OPS of 1.232.

If you need a reminder as to what Andino was responsible for, congratulations: You've successfully managed to block September 2011 from your memory.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Dave D'Onofrio is a sports journalist who focuses on the Red Sox and Patriots, and also writes Boston.com's "Off The Field" blog about what Boston's sportsmen do away from the More »

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