Any team needs to get production from some unlikely sources to be successful. Steve Pearce is doing his share and then some for the Baltimore Orioles.
Now a mainstay in the lineup after fighting for his baseball life just a couple months ago, Pearce and the Orioles could record a season-high sixth straight win Saturday if they sweep a day-night doubleheader from the Boston Red Sox.
The twinbill was the result of Friday afternoon’s series opener being postponed due to the impending storm from Hurricane Arthur sweeping through New England. The forecast for Saturday is clear.
Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado could return for the nightcap after completing a five-game suspension for intentionally throwing his bat on the field against Oakland on June 8. While Machado homered in three of four games before beginning that ban, no Oriole has been hotter than Pearce.
The 31-year-old journeyman was designated for assignment April 22, then claimed off waivers by Toronto but elected to become a free agent and was promptly re-signed by Baltimore on April 29.
That move ranks among the best by any team this season.
With Chris Davis struggling, Pearce began to get more playing time – both at first base and in the outfield – and has hit his way into a regular role.
Pearce notched his first career four-hit game with two of the Orioles’ six doubles in Thursday’s 5-2 win over Texas and added two RBIs and two stolen bases. He’s hit .383 in his last 22 games with six homers, nine doubles and 17 RBIs.
"We’re relying on some people, and people are stepping up," said Pearce, 9 for 20 with nine RBIs in the last five games. "We’re pitching, we’re hitting. We’re having timely hitting. We’re finding ways to get it done."
Baltimore (46-39) swept the four-game series to move a season-best seven games over .500. The Orioles won a season-high five straight May 6-10 and haven’t had a longer win streak since a six-game run in September 2012.
Pearce’s stellar play has overshadowed teammate Adam Jones, who is batting .355 with 10 home runs and 24 RBIs in 31 games since the start of June.
Jones is 15 for 38 (.395) against Boston this season.
The Red Sox (38-47) have now had two days off since getting swept in three straight at home by the last-place Chicago Cubs, including a 16-9 loss Wednesday. Boston had a season high-tying 16 hits after totaling one run in the previous two defeats.
Jon Lester (9-7, 2.92 ERA) will start Saturday’s matinée for the Red Sox, followed by John Lackey (9-5, 3.62) in the second game.
While Lester has been outstanding recently and Lackey has struggled, both have been dominant at Fenway Park of late. Lester has won three straight starts there, yielding two earned runs over 21 innings with three walks and 22 strikeouts. Lackey is 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA in his last three home games with two walks and 23 strikeouts.
Lester is 3-0 with a 1.21 ERA in his last four outings overall. The left-hander outdueled Masahiro Tanaka in a 2-1 victory at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, allowing one unearned run and five hits in eight innings.
After going 14-0 with a 2.33 ERA in his first 17 starts against Baltimore, Lester has gone 1-4 with a 4.09 ERA in his past nine. He was a hard-luck loser versus the Orioles on March 31, giving up two runs over seven innings with eight strikeouts in a 2-1 defeat.
Nelson Cruz is 11 for 24 (.458) with three homers against Lester, while Jones is 18 for 56 (.321) with five home runs and three doubles.
Pearce is 1 for 8 versus Lester and has never faced Lackey, who has been tagged for 12 runs and 13 hits in 8 2-3 innings over his last two starts.
Lackey also struggled the last time he saw the Orioles, giving up six runs and 10 hits in 5 1-3 innings of an 8-4 loss April 18. He had been 2-0 with a 2.42 ERA in his previous three starts against them.
Baltimore goes with Miguel Gonzalez (4-5, 4.56) in the series opener.
In three starts since returning from the disabled list, the right-hander is 1-1 with a 6.14 ERA. He’s allowed 25 hits – five homers – and nine walks over 14 2-3 innings during that span.
Gonzalez, though, has won all three of his starts versus Boston, posting a 3.38 ERA.
Game two starter Ubaldo Jimenez (3-8, 4.31) has had no such good fortune, going 1-3 with a 9.31 ERA in six career starts against the Red Sox. Dustin Pedroia is 7 for 16 against him and Jonny Gomes is 7 for 18 with three homers.
Jimenez, though, halted a nine-start winless skid Monday, allowing an unearned run and four hits over eight innings in a 7-1 victory over Texas. He issued only one walk but remains the major league leader with 54.