Opposite dugout: Red Sox have separated themselves from the pack

red-sox-square.jpgManager: Alex Cora (1st season)

Record: 81-35

Last 10 games: 8-2

Who to watch: DH J.D. Martinez (34 HR, .332/.399/.654), RF Mookie Betts (26 HR, .340/.428/.649, 22 SB), LF Andrew Benintendi (.305/.388/.512, 20 SB), SS Xander Bogaerts (32 2B), LHP David Price (3.93 ERA), RHP Craig Kimbrel (33 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 10-2

Pitching probables:

Aug. 10: RHP Nathan Eovaldi (5-4) vs. RHP Dylan Bundy (7-10), 7:05 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 11: LHP David Price (11-6) vs. RHP Yefry Ramírez (1-4), 1:05 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 11: TBD vs. TBD, 7:05 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 12: LHP Chris Sale (11-4) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (3-14), 1:05 p.m., MASN2

Inside the Red Sox:

If the Red Sox haven't locked up the American League East title already, they've at least sworn out a warrant for its arrest. Since they completed a four-game sweep of the Yankees last weekend, the Sawcks hold an eight-game lead over the second-place Bronx Bombers. Boston is 8-5 against New York over the season, and have beaten up on the rest of the division. The Orioles have gotten the worst of it. The Red Sox roster includes the major leagues' home run leader, the front-runner in the race for the batting title and the best pitcher in the bigs, at least when it comes to WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings pitched. The Red Sox lead the American League in runs, hits, doubles, stolen bases, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. The Boston pitching staff is second in team ERA, runs allowed and home runs allowed, and third in strikeouts. The Red Sox have won 10 of their last 12 games. They lost in Toronto last night, but their star right fielder hit for the cycle. Even in defeat, this team intimidates.

The Sox possess the most punishing 1-2 punch in the majors. Designated hitter J.D. Martinez could this season surpass the 45 homers he collected last year for the Tigers and Diamondbacks. But he's not your all-or-nothing power hitter for whom multiple-strikeout games are the norm. Martinez hits for average, too. In fact, he trails only one major leaguer in batting average: Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts. Betts comes into tonight's play hitting .340. But he's no Ichiro-style slap hitter. Betts has 26 dingers, tied for ninth in the American League with the Yankees' Aaron Judge. And over the course of his career, Betts has hit more homers in Camden Yards than in any park other than Fenway. Betts and lefty-swinging left fielder Andrew Benintendi constitute the Red Sox's most potent stolen-base threats, but don't fall asleep on center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (11 SB). Benintendi is also the team's third .300 hitter. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts has cooled off at the plate in the past couple of weeks and took a couple of days off after a pitch hit him in the hand July 31. Third baseman Rafael Devers (.248/.299/.437) was reactivated Wednesday, and in his first game in 11 days went 2-for-4 with a double and a home run. A strained hamstring led to Devers' latest stint on the disabled list, which started July 29. That was just eight days after he'd completed a term on the DL necessitated by a shoulder inflammation.

In tonight's series opener, hard-throwing righty Nathan Eovaldi makes his third start for the Red Sox since the Rays dealt him last month. The first two were gems, and Eovaldi notched a win in each. He went seven shutout innings against the Twins on July 29, and held the Yankees to three hits and zero runs over eight innings on Aug. 4. Southpaw star David Price brings a string of four straight quality starts into Saturday's matinee. In his last start, Price pitched into the seventh of the Sunday night finale of the four-game series with the Yankees, spreading four hits and two walks while striking out five and holding the Yanks to two runs. The Sox have not yet designated a starter for Game 2 of the doubleheader. Sunday's finale marks the return of lefty Chris Sale from the disabled list. Red Sox officials characterized the shoulder inflammation that sidelined the American League's All-Star starter as mild, but no doubt deemed it prudent to have Sale sit out a couple of turns to give him the best chance of being ready for October. Over his last nine starts, Sale is 6-1 with a 0.75 ERA.

Righty Joe Kelly appears most often in the eighth inning. He had trouble working the sixth the last time he was in Baltimore, surrendering three runs on two hits and two walks on July 24. Since then, however, Kelly has allowed just three hits and one base on balls over four innings of work. Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel trails only the Mariners' Edwin Díaz in saves. Kimbrel last blew an opportunity July 27, walking three and giving up a hit as the Twins scored twice. He had similar trouble against the Yankees on Aug. 4, surrendering two walks and two hits as the Yanks scored their only run of the game.

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