Red Sox-Orioles Preview

The Associated Press

The Boston Red Sox have a run differential of plus-41 while the Baltimore Orioles are at minus-49. Yet it's the Orioles who are in prime contention for an AL wild-card spot, 5 1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox.

Boston is badly in need of victories in this three-game set at Camden Yards, which opens Tuesday night.

Baltimore (62-53) holds one of the AL's wild-card spots despite being outscored, committing more errors than any team and ranking last in stolen bases.

"From what I understand, this team has some people scratching their heads,'' manager Buck Showalter said.

Showalter's managing has been critical in helping the Orioles go 22-6 in one-run games and 12-2 in extra innings.

"The culture change that has evolved in the last couple years, obviously Buck is a big part of that,'' closer Jim Johnson said. "The personnel is a part of that as well. It's enjoyable, but when we look at it we're not satisfied. We have a goal of where we want to be, what we think we can be.''

It's been a different story for Boston (57-59) in its first season under Bobby Valentine. The Red Sox have dropped six of eight extra-inning games, and are 3-6 against Baltimore.

One positive for Boston is its 23-14 mark against left-handed starters as it gets ready to face Wei-Yin Chen (10-7, 3.79 ERA) for the third time. Two of those defeats have come against Chen, who is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in those outings.

The Orioles rookie will try to bounce back after allowing a season-high seven runs over 4 2-3 innings Thursday in an 8-2 loss to Kansas City. Chen had given up seven earned runs in his previous five starts.

He will be backed up by a bullpen that is among the league leaders with a 2.99 ERA, with Johnson recording 34 saves.

"Obviously our bullpen is a lot better, statistically,'' Showalter said. "That's something that would stare out at you. And a lot of it's got to do with the way Jimmy's anchored the end of it.''

These teams have similarly poor ERAs from their rotations, with Baltimore at 4.72 and Boston at 4.80.

The Red Sox need to see improvement from Josh Beckett (5-9, 4.97), who starts Tuesday. Beckett's ERA since the All-Star break rose to 6.75 after he surrendered a season-high eight runs over five innings Wednesday and did not get a decision in a 10-9 loss to Texas.

The right-hander had gone 12 straight outings without allowing a homer before the Rangers went deep three times against him. Beckett left his previous start with a back spasm.

"The back felt good. Just too many pitches down the middle of the plate and everything was up," he said.

Beckett has posted a 5.91 ERA in losing his last three starts to Baltimore.

He'll get his first look at rookie third baseman Manny Machado, who went 6 for 15 with three homers and seven RBIs in his first big league action as the Orioles split four games with Kansas City.

Boston opened this 10-game trip by splitting four in Cleveland. Dustin Pedroia went 7 for 14 and Adrian Gonzalez homered twice and drove in eight runs.

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