Monday is Memorial Day, a significant national holiday in remembrance of fallen American Soldiers.
For the Boston Red Sox it is no holiday. In fact Monday starts a string of games against the best teams in Major League Baseball.
Between now and June 26, the Boston Red Sox will play 25 games. With the exception of three road games against the awful (currently 15-34) Minnesota Twins, every other game will be against a team over .500.
Four of the teams they’ll face would qualify for the playoffs, and seven of the games are against the Baltimore Orioles. The same Baltimore Orioles that currently sit just one game back of the Red Sox in the AL East standings.
The first of those seven games is Monday afternoon in Baltimore. The Red Sox are coming off a rough weekend in Toronto. Friday night Koji Uehara gave up a two run home run to Josh Donaldson in the bottom of the eighth to break a 5-5 tie and lead the Jays to an eventual 7-5 victory.
Saturday was even worse. The Red Sox held a commanding 8-4 lead heading into the eighth inning. Rick Porcello appeared headed for his eighth victory.
The Red Sox struck back to take a 9-8 lead when David Ortiz (who else?) hit a solo home run in the top of the ninth.
In the bottom of the ninth Craig Kimbrel gave up two runs and the Jays walked off with a 10-9 win.
Sunday afternoon’s game certainly looked like it was heading down the same disastrous path that Friday and Saturday’s games had gone down.
Behind yet another solid outing from David Price, the Red Sox held a 3-2 lead heading into the eighth.
That lead evaporated when Heath Hembree gave up a solo home run to Edwin Encarnacion.
The score remained 3-3 through 10 innings. Clay Buchholz (yes, Clay Buchholz!) pitched a scoreless bottom of the tenth.
In the top of the 11th the Red Sox struck for two runs to take a 5-3 lead. Koji Uehara came in and pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 11th to nail down the win.
The Red Sox arrive in Baltimore needing a solid and ideally long outing from Steven Wright. The bullpen has worked 10 innings over the last three games. Manager John Farrell used every available arm over the weekend.
The relief appearance by Clay Buchholz was encouraging, but it was also necessary. Odds are that Farrell probably would have preferred to have broken-in Buchholz out of the bullpen in a slightly less pressure-packed situation, but Sunday’s extra-inning affair altered those plans.
Less than 24 hours later the Red Sox find themselves in Baltimore facing the team with the second best record in the American League.
Baltimore’s offense might not be as lethal as the Red Sox, but they’re still pretty dangerous. Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo are both having fantastic seasons. In an odd twist, the Orioles are getting surprising production out of their pitching staff.
Pitching was expected to be Baltimore’s weakness. When Yovani Gallardo hit the disabled list, what was thought to be a weak pitching staff, was assumed to have gotten even weaker.
Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman are both off to fantastic starts. Tillman is 7-1 with an ERA of 2.92. Gausman is 0-2 but sports an encouraging 3.24 earned run average.
The Red Sox have four games in Baltimore. They arrive with a one game lead in the AL East. Can they leave with a lead, or even better, a larger lead?
David Price won’t be on the mound. Eduardo Rodriguez will make his season debut Tuesday. This series is the most important four-game stretch of the young season. The Red Sox have an opportunity to put considerable distance between themselves and the current second place team. There’s also the potential that they leave Baltimore trailing the Orioles in the standings.
It doesn’t get easier. Between now and June 27, the Red Sox will face the Blue Jays, White Sox and first place Mariners at home. They’ll also hit the road to face the first place San Francisco Giants and second place Texas Rangers.
As good as the Red Sox were in May, it is worth noting that of the eight different teams they faced, five of them are currently at or below .500. The Red Sox don’t control the schedule and beating teams that are not that good is critical part of every playoff caliber team’s mission. Beating the good teams is important too, and this stretch of games should give the Red Sox a good idea of how they matchup with some of the better teams in baseball.
David Ortiz missed Sunday’s game with discomfort in his foot. He is in the starting lineup Monday.
Steven Wright (4-4, 2.52) is on the mound for the Red Sox. Tyler Wilson (2-3, 3.80) gets the ball for the Orioles. First pitch from Camden Yards is scheduled for 1:35 pm ET.