Orioles-Red Sox Preview

Relatively unknown Kyle Weiland has some big shoes to fill as he

takes the mound for the Boston Red Sox.

The team’s potent offense, however, could take some pressure off

the 24-year-old during his major league debut.

Weiland replaces the injured Jon Lester as the Red Sox try to

extend their winning streak to six and complete a four-game sweep

of the reeling Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.

After outscoring the Orioles 20-7 during the first two games of

this series – including Friday’s heated 10-3 victory – Boston

(54-35) prevailed 4-0 on Saturday behind a strong effort from John

Lackey and two RBIs apiece from Josh Reddick and Kevin

Youkilis.

With their fifth straight victory, the Red Sox guaranteed

themselves at least a share of first place in the AL East heading

into the break. Boston, which leads the majors with 5.33 runs per

game, is batting .310 with 11 homers during its current winning

streak.

The club’s starting rotation has also thrived during that span,

going 4-0 with a 2.93 ERA. The Red Sox, however, now turn to a

young right-hander in hopes of extending their run.

Lester, 14-0 with a 2.33 ERA in 17 career starts against

Baltimore, was placed on the 15-day DL after being removed from

Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Toronto with a strained muscle in his back.

While Boston would surely love to have Lester available, manager

Terry Francona is excited about Weiland’s potential.

“It’s his day. He’s lined up for it,” Francona told the Red

Sox’s official website. “He’s really been doing well. As much as

has kind of gone wrong with health, this is the flip side where

it’s really exciting. I’m kind of looking forward to it.

“He throws hard. He’s got a live arm – he always has. He’s

starting to command, he’s competing and he’s starting to mature as

a pitcher.”

Weiland went 8-6 with a 3.00 ERA in 17 starts with Triple-A

Pawtucket but was especially sharp in June, when he posted a 2.36

mark in six games. He’ll look for his momentum to carry over

against the slumping Orioles (36-51), who have been outscored 87-36

during a 1-11 skid.

“It’s a very hard stretch. Nothing’s going right,” shortstop

J.J. Hardy said. “When the pitchers do a good job, we don’t hit.

When we have the hitting, we don’t have the pitching. When the

bullpen does well, we don’t hit. Always something.”

Baltimore, meanwhile, gives the ball to Mitch Atkins (0-0, 1.50

ERA), who gave up one run and eight hits in six innings but didn’t

receive a decision in his season debut, a 4-2 loss at Texas on

Tuesday.

“I’m real proud of Mitch. He took advantage of the opportunity,”

manager Buck Showalter said of the right-hander after making his

first career start. “He got out of there on a good note. Hopefully

it bodes well for his future.”

Atkins will look to quiet the surging Jacoby Ellsbury, who

finished a homer shy of the cycle Saturday. The speedy outfielder

is batting .438 during a 25-game hitting steak versus

Baltimore.

The Orioles, hitting .121 with runners in scoring position this

month, own the second worst road record in baseball at 14-29.

They’ve dropped five straight in this series overall and 22 of 27

at Fenway Park.