CLEVELAND - The Orioles trail the Red Sox by one game in the American League East and the teams are preparing today for a four-game series at Camden Yards.
Can a series at the end of May be construed as big?
We're going to do it here while also pretending that rain isn't in the forecast.
The Red Sox offense is a concern to the Orioles, which is why left-hander T.J. McFarland could be recalled this week as an extra long reliever. They went into yesterday leading the majors with a .296 average, 290 runs, 517 hits, 130 doubles and a .487 slugging percentage, and they were tied with the Pirates for first with a .359 on-base percentage.
Then came their 5-3, 11-inning win yesterday in Toronto, denying the Orioles a chance to pull into a first-place tie.
This isn't going to be easy, but the Orioles are used to challenges, including how they've dealt with injuries to starter Yovani Gallardo and shortstop J.J. Hardy, and Ubaldo Jimenez's brutal May.
Knowing that the Red Sox were coming to Baltimore had to make yesterday's win more satisfying. It enabled the Orioles to take two of three series on the road trip, to again beat a quality opponent on its home turf, to answer critics who expect them to fold.
"Every win counts the same," said reliever Darren O'Day. "They've been playing well. We have to play well on the road to achieve the goals that we've set forth, so every win is important. That's a good team there. You can tell by the tenor of the three games. To take two of three from them is an accomplishment."
The next test is facing knuckleballer Steve Wright, which would be a first for Hyun Soo Kim. Does he stay in the lineup after he went 7-for-18 on the road trip?
My guess is he plays again tonight. May as well keep riding him. And fastball velocity won't be an issue for him. It's the fluttering of Wright's pitches that could prove worrisome.
The next question is whether Pedro Alvarez gets another start at third base if Kim is in left field, Joey Rickard or Nolan Reimold is in right and Mark Trumbo is the designated hitter.
Ryan Flaherty started at third yesterday and delivered a sacrifice fly. He had gone 79 consecutive at-bats without an RBI. He also singled and was called out on strikes on a pitch that almost sailed into the Indians dugout.
Flaherty probably wishes he hadn't attempted to tag Marlon Byrd before throwing to second after fielding Carlos Santana's grounder in the ninth inning. He missed Byrd, and the delay enabled Santana to beat the relay to first. Santana initially was called out, but the review led to a reversal.
Zach Britton made sure it didn't matter, striking out Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor to go 14-for-14 in save opportunities.
Jonathan Schoop went 12-for-37 (.324) on the road trip. Trumbo was 6-for-12 with five RBIs against the Indians. Manny Machado is 9-for-21 (.429) with three RBIs, eight walks and five runs scored during his six-game hitting streak.
The current Orioles are 0-for-9 against Wright. Schoop, Adam Jones and Reimold each have one walk.
Wright is 4-4 with a 2.52 ERA in nine starts this season, including two complete games. He's registered eight quality starts and has surrendered two earned runs or fewer in seven.
Wright has faced the Orioles twice in relief during his career, allowing two runs (one earned) and four hits over 5 2/3 innings and striking out eight batters. Both appearances came at Camden Yards.
Tyler Wilson wasn't needed in relief yesterday, keeping him available for today's start. He's 2-3 with a 3.80 ERA in nine games.
Wilson tossed three scoreless relief innings on April 13 at Fenway Park, allowing two hits and striking out two. Travis Shaw is the only Red Sox player with more than one at-bat against him, going 1-for-2.
Wilson is searching for his first home win. He's 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA in nine career games on the road and 0-3 with a 3.27 ERA in nine games at Camden Yards.
I've got a 5:45 a.m. flight home and will send along the lineups from the ballpark later this morning.
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