Opposite dugout: Red Sox rolling toward AL East crown

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

Record: 70-31

Last 10 games: 8-2

Who to watch: DH J.D. Martinez (29 HR, 80 RBIs), SS Xander Bogaerts (64 RBIs), LF Andrew Benintendi (.303, 59 RBIs), RF Mookie Betts (.352/.441/.670), LHP David Price (4.17 ERA), RHP Craig Kimbrel (31 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: 9-1

Pitching probables:

July 23: RHP Rick Porcello (11-4) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (4-7), 7:05 p.m., MASN
July 24: LHP Drew Pomeranz (1-3) vs. RHP Yefry Ramírez (0-3), 7:05 p.m., MASN
July 25: LHP David Price (11-6) vs. RHP Dylan Bundy (6-9), 7:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Red Sox:

The Red Sox have begun to put some distance between themselves and the Yankees in the American League East race and now hold a five-game lead over the Bronx Bombers. If past performance is any indicator, they stand a good chance of widening the gap further over the next three days in Baltimore. The Red Sox yesterday became the first major league club to reach 70 wins. As a team, they lead the bigs in batting average (.270), RBIs (515) and runs scored (540). Their pitching staff is third in the majors in ERA (3.53), and four of their starters have 11 wins with two months and change left in the regular season.

Given the cozy confines of Camden Yards and the susceptibility of Orioles pitching to the longball, the Red Sox figure to send a few balls flying this week. The short odds are on designated hitter J.D. Martinez, who trails only the Indians' José Ramírez for the major league lead in homers and is tops in the big leagues in RBIs. Meanwhile, notorious Oriole-killer Mookie Betts might just be having his best season ever. Martinez and the Astros' Jose Altuve trail the Sox right fielder in the race for the American League batting title, and Betts is second only to the Angels' Mike Trout in on-base percentage. So it stands to reason that Betts also is second in the majors in runs scored, with 80. He's also driven himself home 23 times. Left-handed left fielder Andrew Benintendi might be taking aim at Eutaw Street. Now in his second full season with the Red Sox, Benintendi has hit .355 and driven in 12 runs at Oriole Park - more RBIs than he's had anywhere on the road besides Yankee Stadium - but has yet to homer in Baltimore. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts has hits in 12 of his last 14 games, going 18-for-52 (.346). He doubled twice yesterday as the Sox won 9-1 at Detroit.

The best news for the Birds is that lefty Chris Sale started that game - his previous start was for the American League in the All-Star Game on Tuesday - and so will be sitting out this series. Right-handed sinkerballer Rick Porcello starts tonight's opener for the Red Sox. Porcello has been solid for the Sox this year, but the Blue Jays chased him early in his last start, touching him up for eight runs on seven hits. He's also not been particularly successful at Camden Yards, going 2-5 with a 4.85 ERA over his 10 years in the big leagues. Tomorrow's start will mark the return of lefty Drew Pomeranz to the Red Sox's active roster after nearly seven weeks on the disabled list with biceps tendinitis. For the season, he's pitched to a 6.81 ERA, but if his arm problem is truly behind him, perhaps he can get close to his form of last year, when he went 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA. This month started out rough for southpaw David Price, who starts Wednesday's finale. Price surrendered eight runs on nine hits July 1 in Yankee Stadium, but he's progressed in every start since. On Saturday he allowed just four hits over 6 1/3 innings in Detroit.

In the late innings of a competitive game, look for right-handers Heath Hembree (3.73 ERA), Joe Kelly (4.31 ERA) and/or Matt Barnes (2.30 ERA), who won't have Manny Machado to kick around anymore. The ninth belongs to Craig Kimbrel, who while taking signs from his catcher appears to be impersonating a pelican drying his wings in the sun, but happens to be one of the most dominant closers in the game. Kimbrel has recorded 31 saves in 33 chances, his last blown save occurring May 9 at Yankee Stadium. Since then he's brought his ERA down to 1.73.

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