The Boston Red Sox may be tied for the AL East lead, but they sure haven’t played like a first-place club recently.
The Red Sox try to avoid their fourth consecutive loss when they meet the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the middle game of their weekend series Saturday at Tropicana Field.
Tampa Bay (10-13) scored four runs in the first two innings Friday night off Red Sox starter Matt Clement and held on for a 5-2 victory. Boston has been outscored 12-0 in the first two innings and 27-6 overall during its losing skid.
After falling behind early in games, the Red Sox (13-10) lineup has been unable to deliver key hits to catch up. Boston tied a season high by leaving 14 runners on base Friday, and twice leaving the bases loaded.
The Red Sox were 2-for-19 with runners in scoring position and are 4-for-35 in RBI situations during the losing streak. Boston is batting .224 with runners in scoring position on the season after posting a .291 average in those situations last year.
“This team can hit a lot better than we are right now, and I think we’re going to,” said Red Sox captain Jason Varitek, who is batting .158 (3-for-19) with runners in scoring position this season. “I don’t know if it’s a cycle. I don’t know what you can call it. But I think this team can hit a lot better.”
Boston’s starting rotation also has fallen on hard times, failing to record a quality start in seven games after producing 11 in the first 16 games of 2006. Red Sox starters have given up five runs or more in six of the last seven games, with the rotation’s ERA rising from 3.68 to 4.87.
Left-hander Lenny DiNardo (0-1, 7.43 ERA) will try and change Boston’s fortunes as he makes his third start of the season. DiNardo, who was inserted into the starting rotation when David Wells was placed on the disabled list with a strained right knee, allowed seven runs and 10 hits in three innings of an 8-1 loss at Toronto on April 22.
He has made three career relief appearances against the Devil Rays, yielding one run in 4 1-3 innings and not factoring in any decisions.
Despite the losing streak, Boston remains tied with Toronto for the AL East lead. The Red Sox have not lost four games in a row since May 24-27.
Doug Waechter (0-1, 6.28) seeks a different result from his last start, an April 19 loss at Fenway Park in which the Red Sox touched him for seven runs— six earned—in just 2 2-3 innings. Tampa Bay made a season-high four errors in the contest, two of them in an ugly third inning when Boston plated seven runs to knock Waechter out of the game.
“In the third inning it kind of snowballed on me,” Waechter said.
Waechter appeared to find his footing in a relief appearance Sunday at Texas, when he threw two scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out three.
Tampa Bay’s bullpen has struggled this season with a 5.09 ERA and .304 opponent batting average, but could improve with the addition of Tyler Walker.
The Devil Rays acquired Walker on Friday from San Francisco. He entered the game in the ninth inning and got a double-play grounder and strikeout for his first American League save.
Tampa Bay is looking to win consecutive games for the first time since a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals from April 14-16.