BALTIMORE — The Red Sox end their season with three games against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. Six of the final 11 games are scheduled to be against Baltimore.
If the Red Sox are going to emerge as a playoff team from a division thickly settled with contenders, winning a few games against the Orioles would seem like a necessity.
That made Sunday’s 6-3 victory by the Orioles the continuation of a troubling trend for the Red Sox.
The Orioles took three of four games in the series and improved to 5-2 against the first-place Sox this season. Baltimore is 18-7 against the Sox over the last two seasons and 29-21 since Buck Showalter became manager in 2010.
Not since July of 2011 have the Sox won consecutive games versus the Orioles.
“We’re a team that gets a lot of hype and other teams go after us,” Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. “That’s fine, we can handle that. But they’re playing well against us and we need to figure out an answer.”
The Sox are eight games over .500 against the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays this season. But they match up poorly against Baltimore, a team with offensive power and a lockdown bullpen.
Orioles relievers have thrown 26⅓ innings against the Red Sox this season. They have allowed nine hits and struck out 23 against one walk.
Closer Jim Johnson, who picked up the save on Sunday, has thrown five innings against the Sox this season and is one single away from being perfect.
Against most teams, the Red Sox look to get the starter out of the game and work on the bullpen. When Showalter goes to his ’pen, the game ends.
“They get right on top of you,” said David Ortiz, who was 2 for 16 in the series. “They have power guys coming out of the bullpen and they’re getting better. Johnson had a good arm when he was young. Guess what? He learned how to pitch.”
Sunday’s starter, former Red Sox minor leaguer Miguel Gonzalez, allowed three runs over 6⅓ innings. He had a 5-0 lead until Will Middlebrooks connected for a three-run homer in the seventh inning.
That was the extent of the scoring for the Sox. Gonzalez (5-2) allowed five hits with two walks and two strikeouts. He is 3-0 against the Sox over the last two seasons.
“They played well against us all weekend,” Middlebrooks said. “A lot of teams seem to play better against us, but they’ve gone beyond that. There’s a lot of baseball left. We’re going to play them again and at the end of the season. Those will be important games, too.”
Not even Jon Lester is immune. The lefthander was 14-0 with a 2.64 earned run average in his first 20 starts against Baltimore. He is 0-2 in his two starts since, giving up nine earned runs on 17 hits over 12 innings. Lester (6-4) did not pitch poorly on Sunday — he struck out eight without a walk and generated 22 missed swings — but was finished after only five innings. He gave five runs on nine hits.
“I wouldn’t say ‘hard-hit.’ I had four broken-bat hits,” Lester said. “I felt like the stuff was there.”
Chris Davis, 0 for 14 in his career against Lester, drove a three-run homer to right field in the third inning.
In the fifth inning, Manny Machado had a RBI single. Lester struck out J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones only to watch helplessly as Davis doubled to left field, the ball eluding the range of Jonny Gomes.
“I had command of all four pitches — best command I’ve had all year,” Lester said. “They did a good job of staying within their approach.”
Lester is 0-4 with a 7.20 ERA in his last six starts. Manager John Farrell considered Sunday a step forward because he had better control.
Lester has taken note of Baltimore’s success against the Sox and realizes that presents a roadblock to the postseason.
“They’ve always been a good offensive team,” Lester said. “Obviously the biggest thing now for them is the back end of that bullpen and the starters have done a great job.
“They’ve always played us tough. We’ve got to do a better job of whatever it is . . . I think you can pull a number of things out of a hat in a given day and we have to do a better job.”
Farrell, who is trying to rebuild his team on the fly, admires how the Orioles are put together.
“They don’t beat themselves. Typically they’re going to throw strikes. They’re not going to issue many walks. They play very sound defense and they’ve got the ability to score a couple of runs on the swing of a bat. They’ve got a good team,” he said.