Manager: John Farrell (5th season)
Last 10 games: 3-3
Who to watch: RF Mookie Betts (.318/.363/.534 with 122 R, 31 HR, 113 RBIs), 2B Dustin Pedroia (.318 with 105 R), LF Andrew Benintendi (.295), DH Hanley Ramirez (30 HR, 111 RBIs), RHP Steven Wright (13-6, 3.33 ERA), RHP Craig Kimbrel (31 saves)
* Statistics from 2016
Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (11-8 in 2016)
Inside the Red Sox
The Red Sox are the odds-on favorites to win the American League East, and with good reason. Even with the retirement of designated hitter David Ortiz - news which caused dugout phones across baseball to breathe a sigh of relief - the Red Sox possess a potentially dangerous blend of offense and pitching that should be difficult for other teams to match. The fact that lefty David Price started the season on the disabled list with an issue in his pitching elbow is viewed in New England as a blip on the radar, and folks in Beantown are already making plans for a deep postseason run.
Compensating for the offense lost by Ortiz’s retirement shouldn’t be an issue, starting with right fielder Mookie Betts, who torched the Orioles last season, slashing .408/.477/.817 with nine homers and 21 RBIs in 19 games. Talk about a one-man wrecking crew. Betts’ production against the orange and black made second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s .304/.345/.367 slash against the O’s seem pedestrian by comparison. But the Red Sox have guys like Pedroia and shortstop Xander Bogaerts who can set the table, and big sticks such as Betts, new DH Hanley Ramirez and Rookie of the Year favorite Andrew Benintendi to drive them in. They signed first baseman Mitch Moreland away from the Rangers as a free agent, figuring his left-handed bat would play well in Fenway Park’s short right field. The only thing that can stop the Red Sox offense, it seems, is the nasty flu bug that’s been making its way around the clubhouse. So if you see a familiar name or two sitting for a backup, that may be the reason.
Price is injured and the Orioles won’t face defending Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello on their first 2017 trip to Fenway Park. But they do get quite a different pair of pitchers in left-hander Drew Pomeranz and righty Steven Wright. Pomeranz, who starts Tuesday’s series opener, came to Boston from San Diego last July 14 and didn’t fare well. After going 8-7 with a 2.47 ERA in 17 starts for the Padres, he scuffled to a 3-5 record and 4.58 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) for Boston. He’s traditionally struggled against the Orioles, going 0-2 with an 8.10 ERA in four games (one start) versus Baltimore. He will be activated off the disabled list to make his first 2017 start after missing time with a left forearm flexor tendon strain. Pomeranz can throw five pitches, but relies heavily on a low-90s fastball setting up an 80 mph curve. Those pitches are pretty routine, but knuckleballer Wright could be the kind of pitcher who, if effective, could wreck O’s bats for a few days with his fluttering offerings. A September shoulder strain derailed his breakout season in 2016, but he still managed to confound hitters to the tune of 13 wins. In his career, Wright is 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in four games (two starts) against the Orioles, both wins coming last year, when he won both of his starts versus the Birds.
If the Red Sox are going to contend for a division title, they’ll need a strong bullpen and a bounceback campaign from closer Craig Kimbrel, whose first season in Boston brought only 31 saves, his lowest total in any full season. But he also blew only two saves, also a career low. Kimbrel will need to improve on the 3.40 ERA he posted last season, the highest of his career.