Leading Off: Red Sox Aim to Sweep Orioles

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Leading Off: Red Sox Aim to Sweep Orioles The Red Sox have reversed course nicely since coming home from Texas on a five-game losing streak. They beat the Orioles again on Saturday night, never looking back after a David Ortiz three-run homer in the first, riding a strong outing from Jon Lester to another victory over the cellar dwellers of the AL East. It's been a good series for the pitching staff, a good series for Big Papi, and a good series for newcomer Adam LaRoche. Now, to sweep that series, they'll look to veteran hurler John Smoltz.

When and Where
1:35 p.m. ET (NESN), July 26, 2009
Fenway Park, Boston, Mass.

Records
Red Sox (57-39, 2nd place in AL East)
Orioles (41-55, 5th place in AL East)

Skinny
The youth movement just keeps moving in Baltimore, and it's not going to pay off overnight — especially not in the hyper-competitive AL East. The O's lineup features a trio of rising superstars (Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis and Adam Jones) and a pair of underrated veterans (Luke Scott and Aubrey Huff), but the pitching staff is still in rebuilding mode. Today's Baltimore starter, rookie David Hernandez, is yet another youngster the Orioles will throw into the Fenway fire.

Starting Lineup

Red Sox Orioles
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF Brian Roberts, 2B
Dustin Pedroia, 2B Felix Pie, LF
Kevin Youkilis, 3B Adam Jones, CF
David Ortiz, DH Nick Markakis, RF
Jason Bay, LF Nolan Reimold, DH
J.D. Drew, RF Ty Wigginton, 1B
Adam LaRoche, 1B Melvin Mora, 3B
Jed Lowrie, SS Gregg Zaun, C
George Kottaras, C Robert Andino, SS

Pitching Matchup
RHP John Smoltz (1-3, 6.31 ERA) vs. RHP David Hernandez (2-2, 3.55 ERA)

The Smoltz era has gotten off to a rough start in Boston — after five starts, the 42-year-old righty is still having a tough time adjusting to American League bats. Smoltz had another frustrating outing on Monday, getting knocked out in the sixth when the Rangers exploded for a five-run rally, and his ERA on the season now sits at 6.31.

Smoltz has been able to string together strong stretches of three, four and sometimes five innings, but he continues to implode and let up big rallies. He needs to cut that out if he's going to contribute to a Red Sox playoff run.

For the Orioles, it's yet another rookie taking the hill at Fenway. David Hernandez will make his eighth career start on Sunday — in his first seven, he's put up a 3.55 ERA in 38 innings. His peripheral numbers are troublesome, though, he has just 21 strikeouts versus 15 walks, and he's allowed a home run in each of his last four games.

Stat Sheet
Red Sox

The Red Sox are 33-14 at home this season, the best such record in the major leagues.

The Red Sox have beaten the Orioles in 11 consecutive games.

John Smoltz has faced the Orioles seven times in his career, four as a starter and three as a reliever. He has a 4.05 ERA in 26.2 innings.

J.D. Drew has a .233 batting average this season but a .358 on-base percentage. He has walked 53 times.

Dustin Pedroia has 30 doubles. He is one of only three AL players to have reached that mark this season.

Jason Bay has 63 walks, second in the American League.

Of Jacoby Ellsbury's 104 hits, 80 are singles. Ellsbury ranks first on the Red Sox and fifth in the AL in singles.

Mike Lowell has grounded into 15 double plays, third in the AL.

David Ortiz is 7-for-21 (.333) this week.

Nick Green is 17-for-91 (.187) against the Orioles in his career.

In three games before taking Saturday night off, Kevin Youkilis had struck out five times in 11 at-bats.

Jason Varitek has a .874 OPS at home this year. Nine of his 13 home runs have come at Fenway Park.

Orioles
The Orioles are 0-11 this season in road games against the Red Sox and Yankees.

Opposing hitters are hitting .272 against David Hernandez.

Two Orioles, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts, are tied for the AL lead in sacrifice flies with six.

Roberts has scored 69 runs, tied with the Red Sox' Dustin Pedroia for second in the AL.

Adam Jones' career slugging percentage against the Red Sox is just .352. He has homered once in 88 at-bats.

Matt Wieters has a .674 OPS this season. He hasn't homered since July 5.

Aubrey Huff's OPS has fallen 188 points this season, from .912 in 2008 to .724 this year.

Melvin Mora is 112-for-447 (.251) in his career against the Red Sox.

Black and Blue
Red Sox

Tim Wakefield has been on the 15-day disabled list since July 18 with a strained lower back. The Globe's Tony Massarotti reported that Wakefield recently received a cortisone shot to help alleviate the pain.

Daisuke Matsuzaka is on the DL with a strained right shoulder. He met with manager Terry Francona for 90 minutes this weekend; the team has determined that the righty "is not ready for mound work."

Jeff Bailey has been on the 15-day DL since July 5 with a high ankle sprain in his left leg.

Orioles
Chris Ray
, who was placed on the 15-day DL on July 6 with tendinitis in his right biceps, made a rehab appearance with the Double-A Bowie Baysox on Friday night.

Dennis Sarfate was placed on the 15-day DL on May 2 with numbness in his right hand.

Koji Uehara was placed on the 15-day DL on June 24 with tendinitis in his right elbow.

This Date in Red Sox History
In 1964, 19-year-old rookie Tony Conigliaro is hit on the arm by Cleveland pitcher Pedro Armos, breaking the arm and derailing what appeared to be a Rookie of the Year season for the young outfielder. Three years later, Conigliaro would suffer an even more serious injury on a hit-by-pitch — he suffered a broken cheekbone and damaged retina when the Angels' Jack Hamilton beaned him on August 18, 1967.

Overheard
"Last week, we were saying guys were trying to swing for a three-run homer. Every team goes through periods where things aren't going very well and you try too hard."
–Terry Francona in Sunday's Globe

The Press Box
Red Sox

Big Papi sparked a Red Sox win.

Justin Masterson stays focused.

Newcomer Adam LaRoche remains flexible.

Orioles
The youth movement continues — here comes Chris Tillman.

The O's are scouting the Dominican heavily.

Rich Hill will get another shot.

MLB
Rickey was … the greatest?

What a comeback for the Rays on Saturday!

Thanks for Halladay, but no thanks.

Outlook
There's been no one less stable than on the mound for the Red Sox than John Smoltz, but the Sox have always been a sure thing when playing at home against the last-place Orioles. Hernandez vs. Smoltz is a little unpredictable, but it could never hurt to bet on the team that's won 11 straight in the head-to-head matchup between the two teams. For anyone trying to figure out when Smoltz is going to get his second win, Sunday afternoon's game is as good a guess as any.

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