Opposite dugout: Struggling on offense, Red Sox welcome Birds to Boston

red-sox-square.jpgManager: John Farrell, second year
Record: 7-9
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: 1B Mike Napoli (.304/.400/.500, 3 HR, 9 RBIs); OF Grady Sizemore (.273/.327/.455, 2 HR, 5 RBIs); RHP Jake Peavy (0-0, 1.93 ERA, .179 BAA); RHP John Lackey (2-1, 3.86 ERA, 1.13 WHIP)
Season series vs. O’s: 2-1, 11 runs scored, 7 runs allowed

Pitching probables
April 18: John Lackey vs. Chris Tillman, 7 p.m., MASN HD
April 19: Felix Doubront vs. Bud Norris, 1:30 p.m., MASN HD
April 20: Jake Peavy vs. Ubaldo Jimenez, 7 p.m., ESPN
April 21: Clay Buchholz vs. Wei-Yin Chen, 11 a.m., MASN HD

Series breakdown
Since taking the last two games against the Orioles in the first series of the season, the Red Sox didn’t win back-to-back games again until the last two over the White Sox.

Boston has endured two three-game losing streaks and its powerhouse offense has gotten off to a weak start. The Red Sox enter the four-game weekend series ranked 23rd in the majors with a .232 batting average and are tied (with Baltimore) for 22nd with 56 runs.

The team’s pitching staff has performed far better, ranking fourth in the American League with a 3.25 ERA. The Red Sox own the AL’s best bullpen with their relief corps pitching to a 2.37 ERA. Four relievers - closer Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Chris Capuano and Craig Breslow - have yet to allow a run, combining for 25 1/3 scoreless innings.

So, teams might want to employ the uncommon strategy of trying to keep the Boston starter out as long as possible. This series, the Red Sox send everyone to the mound but star left-hander Jon Lester. The first and third contests in the series feature the top matchups, as John Lackey takes on Chris Tillman in Game 1 while Jake Peavy faces Ubaldo Jimenez in Game 3.

Offensively, Mike Napoli is the lone Boston hitter batting above .300, and he also leads the club with three homers and nine RBIs. Designated hitter David Ortiz has two homers and eight RBIs, but is batting just .222. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia has had a rough two weeks as well, hitting .231 with a .546 OPS.

Facing an Orioles team that’s heating up both at the plate and on the mound, the Red Sox could have their hands full. But the matchup between the O’s potent lineup and Boston’s stingy pitching staff should be a must-see.

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