BALTIMORE -- The sagging Baltimore Orioles have seen the best of the Boston Red Sox all season long. From the time these two clubs first met on April 17th until their final meeting on Sunday, the Red Sox have had their way with the Orioles, winning 16 of the 18 meetings this season.
What the Orioles have seen -- besides the back sides of whippings all summer -- is a club so sound that several of Baltimore's players and manager Dave Trembley simply cannot find weaknesses with Boston. They point to an everyday lineup that is among the most difficult to face in baseball.
"More than their clubs in the past ever had, they have balance,'' Trembley said of the Red Sox. "They have speed at the top with [Jacoby] Ellsbury and [Dustin] Pedroia that they didn't always have in recent years. Then you have [Kevin] Youkilis, as clutch as they come in the middle of the lineup. They have guys on the bench that can take the place of almost anybody and barely skip a beat. The back end of their bullpen sets up real well, you have righties and lefties that are very tough before you even get to Jonathan Papelbon. But to me the key is Pedroia. For me, he's always the guy in the middle of it. He's the igniter.''
The Red Sox offense ranks in the top five in the American League in runs (third), doubles (first), home runs (third), walks (third) and somewhat surprisingly stolen bases (fifth). When it comes to pitching, the staff is equally up there in several important categories, like ERA (third), complete games (second), shutouts (third), earned runs allowed (second), home runs allowed (first), walks allowed (third) and strikeouts (second). It's as balanced a Red Sox attack as has been seen in years. Boston's bullpen ERA ranks first in the AL.
"When a bullpen has so many different parts and is getting through other teams that's always the sign of a team that is rolling,'' said veteran reliever Billy Wagner, who joined the Red Sox last month. "It's a luxury because it usually means guys aren't being overused. No one is getting overworked.''
What has a few of the Orioles amazed is how Boston was able to build a batting order that is so difficult to pitch against. They point to the lefty-righty-lefty swing of the lineup almost from top to bottom and how that can wreak havoc on anyone's bullpen late in a game. Consider that the Sox's usual everyday lineup is Ellsbury (lefty), Pedroia (righty), Victor Martinez (switch-hitter), Youkilis (righty), David Ortiz (lefty), Jason Bay (righty), J.D. Drew (lefty) and Mike Lowell (righty). Throw in catcher Jason Varitek (also a switch-hitter) and it's yet another wrinkle.
"Who do you pitch to?'' asked Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora. "They don't joke around. I give credit to a guy like Terry Francona. When you have a captain of your boat like that, the ship is not going to sink.''
Cesar Izturis is someone who likes to look at clubs up the middle, and he points to the addition of Alex Gonzalez at shortstop as the last key to the Red Sox puzzle.
"Either Varitek or Martinez behind the plate and then you have Gonzalez and Pedroia and Ellsbury,'' Izturis said. "That's the key to almost any great club. But then you throw in their corner guys and they really have no weaknesses. To me, they're better than the two World Series teams they had.''
ESPN's Pedro Gomez covered the Oakland A's from 1992 to 1997 and then became the national baseball writer and later a general columnist at The Arizona Republic before becoming an ESPN bureau reporter in 2003.