Despite having the best record in the majors and the largest division lead, the Boston Red Sox stumbled into the All-Star break.
The Red Sox look to open the second half with a victory and avoid the same letdown they had after the break last year when they face the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday at Fenway Park .
Boston (53-34) cruised through the first half of the season, opening up a 12-game lead in the AL East on July 5. The Red Sox still own a 10-game lead over the second-place Blue Jays (43-44) and New York Yankees, but they’ve lost eight of their last 13 and were swept in Detroit in their final series before the break.
“We’ve played ourselves into whatever our record is,” Boston manager Terry Francona told the team’s official Web site. “From here on out, whatever we do is what matters.”
Last season, the Red Sox had the third-best record in the majors at the All-Star break at 53-33, and led the Yankees by three games. In the second half, though, Boston struggled to a 33-43 mark and finished 11 games behind New York to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Tim Wakefield (9-8, 4.39 ERA) will look to get the Red Sox back on track and win his third straight start when he takes the mound Thursday.
Wakefield is 4-1 with a 4.78 ERA in his last five starts after going 1-4 with a 7.98 ERA in the previous five outings. He has not won three starts in a row since Aug. 26-Sept. 6, 2005.
In his last outing July 4th, the right-hander departed after 6 1-3 innings with a 7-1 lead, but ended up getting charged with four runs in a 7-5 victory at Fenway. The knuckleballer, who has posted a 3.71 ERA during a four-start home winning streak, hasn’t won five straight starts at Fenway since Aug. 2-Sept. 6, 2005.
Boston has the fourth-best home record in the majors at 28-14 and has won eight of its last 10 at Fenway.
Wakefield is 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA in three starts against the Blue Jays this season, although he gave up four runs in six innings of a 7-3 home loss to them April 23. He’s 14-9 with a save and a 3.75 ERA in 43 games - 33 starts - overall against Toronto, and 7-2 with a 2.72 ERA in nine starts against them since the start of the 2004 season.
The Blue Jays will counter Wakefield with staff ace Roy Halladay (10-3, 4.46), who’s 6-1 with a 4.56 ERA in eight starts since coming off the disabled list May 31 after a bout with appendicitis.
Halladay was shaky his last time out, though, giving up five runs and nine hits in 5 2-3 innings of an 8-6 victory over Cleveland on Friday.
“More than anything, my curveball wasn’t as good as it has been. It’s something I need to work on,” the right-hander told the team’s official Web site.
The 2003 AL Cy Young Award winner is 9-8 with a 4.67 ERA in 30 games - 27 starts - against the Red Sox, and 1-1 with a 5.31 ERA in three starts against them this season.
The Blue Jays have won three of their last four and defeated Cleveland 1-0 in their last game Sunday, as All-Star Alex Rios hit an RBI single in the ninth.
Rios, who finished second in Monday’s Home Run Derby, caught the final out of Tuesday’s All-Star game to give the AL a 5-4 victory. He’s batting .409 (9-for-22) with two doubles and eight RBIs during a six-game hitting streak, but is 5-for-24 (.208) with a homer in his career against Wakefield.
The Red Sox have won five of eight against the Blue Jays this season, but lost the only two games played at Fenway.