Orioles look to bounce back from disappointing series as Sox come to town

July 26, 2013 | Max Buchdahl

This week didn’t exactly go as planned for the Orioles, especially given their convincing series-opening win on Monday night in Kansas City. They essentially undid their hard work last weekend against the Rangers by falling into yet another trap versus an inferior team. But all can be made up for again when the division-leading Red Sox come to Baltimore for the weekend. After last night’s scheduled game against the Rays was rained-out, the Red Sox will push back John Lackey to tonight, after he was originally slated to go last night. The Orioles, meanwhile, will send Chris Tillman to the bump.

Lackey missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, and his career seemed to be heading to the slaughterhouse. But he has been rejuvenated this year, establishing himself as the ace of the Red Sox staff. His numbers, however, don’t exactly match his production, in large part due to the Red Sox’s lack of run support when he throws. They have scored more than six runs with Lackey on the mound just three times in his seventeen starts this season.

He is just 7-7 on the year, and the team is a mere 8-9 in his starts, but he leads the active roster with a 2.95 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. If there is any example of how a pitcher’s win-loss record can be meaningless, it’s name is John Lackey.

When Lackey started in Baltimore back in June, he tossed seven innings of two-run, seven-hit ball on the way to what was his fourth win of the season. Since that start on June 15, he has given up more than two earned runs just once. That came in his most recent start, which was against the Yankees. He has been a master of durability, going seven or more innings in six of his last seven starts.

Orioles hitters, meanwhile, have a lot of experience against Lackey. Nick Markakis is the most-experienced against him, racking up a .356 average in 51 plate appearances with three doubles and four runs driven in. Chris Davis has a .400 average against Lackey with a home run and four RBI’s. Brian Roberts and Adam Jones, though, haven’t had nearly as much success in figuring out the Red Sox righty. They have combined for just 16 hits in 70 total at-bats, with 16 combined strikeouts as well.

Given the amount of struggles the Orioles have had against left-handed starters, Lackey may be just what they need to see to break out of their losing streak. Right-handed hitters are hitting .289 against him, while lefties are hitting a measly .211. Lackey’s numbers are also worse on the road than they are at home. He sports a 3-5 record when he’s away from Fenway, and his ERA on the road is almost two whole points higher. If there’s any situation in which you’d want to face the Red Sox ace, and there are few of them, it would be in tonight’s game.

On the Orioles side, they will send out their only All-Star pitcher in his second start since All-Star week. Chris Tillman went eight very strong innings last Sunday night in a win over the Rangers. Tonight’s game will be the third start for him against the Red Sox this year, winning one of the starts and earning a no-decision in the other. He’s combined for 11.1 innings and just two earned runs in those outings.

There aren’t many Red Sox hitters who have had much success in their careers against Tillman. None of them have ever hit a home run off of him, while Jacoby Ellsbury is just a .167 hitter and David Ortiz is hitless in five at-bats when staring down the Orioles righty. Ellsbury is already in a little bit of a slump, picking up only two combined hits in his last four games.

Friday night’s opener between the O’s and Red Sox should be a showcase of good pitching. Lackey and Tillman are two of the most surprisingly successful pitchers in the entire division this year, and both still have much yet to prove. One struggled in his first post-All-Star game start, while one excelled. Whichever one can steal the show tonight will give their team a crucial head-start to this divisional series.