Opposite dugout: Red Sox look to stay hot at plate, get rotation on track with O's in town

red-sox-square.jpgManager: John Farrell, third year
Record: 6-3
Last 10 games: 6-3
Who to watch: LF Hanley Ramirez (.278/.341/.611, 4 HR, 9 RBIs); 2B Dustin Pedroia (.300/.383/.575, 2 doubles, 3 HR, 6 RBIs); RHP Joe Kelly (1-0, 1.29 ERA, 0.429 WHIP); RHP Rick Porcello (1-1, 3.86 ERA, 0.929 WHIP)
Season series vs. O's (2014): 8-11, 62 runs scored, 85 runs allowed

Pitching probables
April 17: RHP Joe Kelly vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez, 7 p.m., MASN
April 18: RHP Clay Buchholz vs. RHP Chris Tillman, 4 p.m., MASN2
April 19: RHP Rick Porcello vs. RHP Miguel Gonzalez, 1:30 p.m., MASN
April 20: RHP Justin Masterson vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen, 11 a.m., MASN

Series breakdown
The Red Sox spent the winter working to make sure 2014's last-place finish was more an aberration than the norm, and as they welcome the Orioles to town, things are looking up in Beantown.

Boston has won all three of its series so far, taking two of three from the Phillies, Yankees and Nationals with a highly productive lineup to thank.

The Red Sox have scored the second-most runs in the majors with 56 through nine games, while tying for fifth with 11 homers and ranking ninth in both average and OPS.

Both new lineup additions - left fielder Hanley Ramirez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval - are hitting well. Ramirez leads the club with four homers and nine RBIs in just eight games while posting an impressive .278/.341/.611 slash line. Sandoval is batting .306 and is getting on base at a .375 clip. But he's still seeking his first extra-base hit of the season and has just three RBIs.

Also helping the Red Sox is improved production from 22-year-olds Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts. Bogaerts, the team's starting shortstop, is hitting an eye-popping .382/.447/.471 with two extra-base hits and seven RBIs. Betts' average (.225) and OPS (.698) aren't wowing anyone yet, but he has two homers and eight RBIs in eight games. Over the first two games of the Nationals series, the center fielder had a double, a homer and six RBIs.

And then there's the Red Sox's mainstays. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia has a team-best .958 OPS to go with a .300 average, two doubles, three homers and six RBIs in playing all nine games. Designated hitter David Ortiz remains a power threat at 39 years old, with two homers and three RBIs - although he is batting .188/.288/.375. Utility men Brock Holt and Daniel Nava have added five RBIs apiece despite each getting just 15 at-bats so far this season.

The hot start at the plate has helped make up for some deficiencies on the mound thus far.

The Red Sox's remade rotation has struggled in the early stages with the second-worst starters' ERA in the majors at 6.16. Boston comes into the series having allowed at least four runs in six straight games and in seven of nine contests overall.

Right-handers Joe Kelly, tonight's starter, and Rick Porcello are the only members of the rotation with ERAs under 7.00. Kelly was fantastic in his only start, allowing one run on one hit and two walks while striking out eight in seven frames for a victory. He faces righty Ubaldo Jimenez in the series opener.

Porcello takes a 1-1 record and a 3.86 ERA through two starts into Sunday's game against Miguel Gonzalez. Porcello allowed four runs in eight innings his last time out.

The rest of the Red Sox starters have had a pretty rough go. Right-hander Clay Buchholz continues to frustrate, having gone 1-1 with a 7.84 ERA through two starts. He pitches against Orioles ace Chris Tillman on Saturday. Right-hander Justin Masterson, who pitches against lefty Wei-Yin Chen Monday morning, is 1-0 with a 7.59 ERA through two starts. He allowed two runs in six innings in his first start of the year before allowing seven in 4 2/3 innings against the Nats. Left-hander Wade Miley is 0-1 with a 10.57 ERA through two starts after surrendering seven runs in 2 1/3 innings agsinst the Nats.

The bullpen has performed much better, ranking seventh in the American League with a 2.97 ERA. Former Orioles closer Koji Uehara is back after starting the season on the disabled list, and converted his only save opportunity. Left-hander Craig Breslow, who drew the Orioles' interest over the winter, has started his season with 6 2/3 scoreless innings of relief over four appearances. Right-hander Junichi Tazawa has added 3 2/3 scoreless innings over four appearances.

The Orioles enter the series with a similar start to the Red Sox, ranking sixth in the majors in runs and 28th in ERA. On paper, this should be an exciting, high-scoring, back-and-forth series. But with it being a key early season matchup between American League East rivals with division title aspirations, don't be surprised if the pitching finds its form at just the right time.

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