Series Preview: 10 Keys to the Orioles' Series Against the Red Sox

Zachary Krueger@@ZacharyKruegerCorrespondent IIApril 8, 2013

Series Preview: 10 Keys to the Orioles' Series Against the Red Sox

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    The Baltimore Orioles wrapped up their series with the Minnesota Twins on Sunday and will travel to Boston Monday when they face the Red Sox. Last season, the Orioles went 13-5 against the Red Sox—the most wins they had against any opponent.  

    The AL East has consistently been one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, making every game as crucial as the next. With a big first series coming up for the Orioles, let's take a look at 10 keys to the Orioles' success against the Red Sox this week.

1. Continue Hot Hitting

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    The Baltimore Orioles have gotten off to a stellar start at the plate this season. The Orioles are currently second in the majors with a .301 average, third in hits (65), third in runs scored (37) and sixth in extra-base hits (22).  

    The Orioles have struggled to hit home runs, however, hitting only seven on the year. Of those seven homers, four of them have been hit by Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy has two and catcher Matt Wieters has one. 

    In a hitter-friendly park like Boston's Fenway Park, the Orioles will need to take advantage of the short porch in left field to find their hits and score their runs.

2. Find Offensive Production from Second Base

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    Second baseman Brian Roberts seemed to have not missed a beat in his first time back from an injury-plagued 2012 season. Roberts posted five hits in his first 12 at-bats on the season, was hitting .417 and had a stolen base for the Orioles. That said, the lone stolen base that Roberts has on the season came at a high price, as the veteran second baseman suffered an injury to his right leg on the attempt.

    Since Roberts' injury, the Orioles have struggled to find offensive production at second base.

    Alexi Casilla and Ryan Flaherty have both seen time at second base in Roberts' absence.  The two players have combined for one hit in 14 at-bats on the season, posting a .071 average. While the Orioles have had great offensive production as a team, they need somebody to step up at second base and produce while Roberts is on the disabled list.

3. Pitchers Can't Fall Behind in Counts

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    The Orioles' pitching has done a nice job this season of not walking batters. Through the first six games, the team has yielded only 15 free passes to opposing hitters. The Orioles may find the Red Sox bats to be the most patient they have seen all season this coming series.

    The Red Sox have displayed great patience at the plate this season, as they stand currently third in the league at walks with 26 on the young season, with no player having more than rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. who currently has five. On top of that, the Sox are currently second in the league with a .317 on-base percentage.

    In a league that has become more about pitching in the last few years, the Orioles can help themselves out tremendously with getting ahead in counts and not giving the Red Sox hitters a chance to work the count in their favor.

4. Starters Need to Have Bounce Back Performances

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    Although their pitching has not been awful this season, the Orioles have still struggled on the mound. As with most pitching staffs, the success of the bullpen is partially dependent on the success of the starters, and the Orioles will start two pitchers who are in need of a bounce =0back outing against the Red Sox.

    Manager Buck Showalter has made the decision to skip Miguel Gonzalez's scheduled start against the Red Sox on Wednesday and instead will send Jake Arrieta to the mound.  

    Arrieta struggled in last Friday's matchup against the Minnesota Twins. The fourth-year pro pitched five innings for the Orioles, allowing seven hits and five earned runs. While he was able to limit himself to just two walks while striking out five, Arrieta's pitches were clearly not working for him.  

    Similarly to Arrieta, Chris Tillman also struggled in his 2013 debut against the Twins.  

    Tillman also allowed seven hits and five earned runs to the Twins in last Saturday's game, but the Twins got to him much faster, bouncing the starter after just 3.2 innings of work. Tillman struggled with his command in his brief outing, walking four batters and giving up a two-run homer to Chris Parmelee before being pulled.

    Against a tough Red Sox lineup, both pitchers will look to bounce back from their previous starts and post their first quality start of the season.

5. Keep Baserunners Close

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    The Red Sox lead the league in stolen bases on the young season, having swiped eight bases while being caught only once. If the Orioles hope to limit Boston's runs this series, it will be up to Matt Wieters to see that Red Sox baserunners don't continue their success on the basepaths.

    Wieters has thrown out three of the four runners who have attempted to steal on him this season and has thrown out 33 percent of base stealers throughout his career. Widely considered to be one of the best defensive catcher in the league today, Wieters will need to be on top of his game against Red Sox baserunners.

6. Contain Ellsbury and Victorino

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    At the top of the Red Sox lineup sits two of their most dangerous hitters in Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino.  On the season, the two have combined for 17 hits in 54 at-bats, with six stolen bases and eight runs scored.

    Victorino has yet to record an extra-base hit on the season, but with a hitter-friendly ballpark and Victorino's blazing speed, that could end at any time.  Ellsbury, on the other hand, poses a much different threat.

    Although he has only hit double-digit home runs once in his career, Ellsbury is capable of hurting an opposing defense in a number of ways. In 2011, he was a triple threat for the Red Sox, hitting 32 home runs while posting 105 RBI and stealing 39 bases.  

    Ellsbury's 2011 performance was good enough to finish second in the American League MVP race that year, and at 29 years old, he should not be overlooked for another season with similar numbers.

7. Get to the Red Sox Bullpen Early

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    The Red Sox bullpen has not been completely up to par early this season.  While they have not been terrible, Red Sox relievers have posted a 4.32 ERA and allowed eight earned runs in 16.2 innings of work. However Boston's starters have been solid thus far, allowing 3.76 runs per game while walking only nine batters and striking out 33—good for second in the league.

    Due to Boston's productive starting pitchin,g the Orioles should look to get deep into counts and force the Red Sox to go to their bullpen early. Should the Orioles be able to get to Boston's bullpen early, they may be able to find more offensive success than against Red Sox starters.

8. Manny Machado Must Produce out of the No. 2 Hole

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    It may not be fair to consider Manny Machado's early-season struggles a sophomore slump given his short season in the majors last year, but Machado has struggled nonetheless.  

    Showalter elected to place Machado second in the lineup for the start of the season, and Machado has not found the transition to be an easy one.

    On the season, Machado is hitting just .192 with a .250 on-base percentage, driving in only one run. There's no doubting the pressure that comes with hitting at the top of an order. Machado is now being asked to be a catalyst and playmaker for the Orioles on offense, setting the table for hitters like Adam Jones and Matt Wieters.  

    With leadoff man Nick Markakis hitting .370 on the season for the Orioles, Machado needs to start coming up bigger for the Orioles in the second hole of the lineup this series against the Red Sox.

9. Chris "Crush" Davis

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    Was there any doubt that Chris Davis would be mentioned somewhere in this list? What the Orioles' first baseman has done this season is nothing short of remarkable for the Birds.

    Four games into the season, Chris Davis set the MLB record for most RBI in the first four games of the season, driving in 16 RBI for the Birds over the four-game span. Davis has been everything the Orioles could hope for this season and will need to continue his hot hitting on the road in Boston.

    On the season, Davis has hit .455, blasting four home runs and driving in a league-leading 17 base runners. He is also the only player in the league heading into Monday with double digit RBI.  

    How important has Davis been for the Orioles offense? The rest of the Orioles lineup has combined for a total of three home runs and 19 RBI. And of Davis' 10 hits on the season, seven of them have gone for extra bases. 

    While Chris Davis will eventually cool down from his hot start, the Orioles will need another strong series out of him when they take on the Red Sox this week.

10. Productivity at DH

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    The Orioles might as well play with eight men in their lineup heading into Boston. Why? Take one look at Baltimore's designated hitters this season and you would think that they have failed to show up for almost every game.

    The Orioles have had no success out of their designated hitters this season. On the year, the team's designated hitters have a total of one hit through six games, good for a league worst .053 batting average. No player to play a game for the Orioles at DH has posted a home run, much less an RBI.

    While the Orioles have done fine despite the performance from their designated hitters, at some point, they will need to find somebody to consistently fill that hole. To see a designated hitter have a good series against the Red Sox would be a welcomed feature to Baltimore's lineup.