The Boston Red Sox aren’t sure what’s been happening to their struggling bats lately, as one of the AL’s most feared lineups is in the midst of a collective slump.
But it seems like Boston has figured out a cure that lasts for at least one inning.
Coming off a pair of dramatic walk-off wins in the ninth, the first-place Red Sox will look to sweep the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday at Fenway Park for the first time since 2004.
The early-season slump of designated hitter David Ortiz (.184) has been a hot topic in Boston, but lately the Red Sox (17-12) haven’t been getting steady production from anyone. They scored just five runs during a three-game sweep by Tampa Bay over the weekend - one in the last two losses - and came back to Boston on a five-game slide.
The offense hasn’t picked up much since the Blue Jays (11-17) came to town, as Boston has mustered a total of seven hits combined in the first eight innings of action over two nights.
But once the ninth has rolled around, the Red Sox have begun to click.
Kevin Youkilis singled in Ortiz on Tuesday, giving Boston a 1-0, ninth-inning win. On Wednesday, the Red Sox put together three hits and a walk in the final inning, and Jason Varitek singled home Manny Ramirez for a 2-1 victory.
“Late heroics are better than no heroics,” said manager Terry Francona, whose team last swept Toronto at home Aug. 16-18, 2004.
Perhaps the best sign for the Red Sox is that Ortiz is looking like he might be coming around. Ortiz, who hit .304 and has averaged 44 homers over the last four years, started the season hitting .070 (3-for-43) in his first 12 games. But he’s hitting .300 with four homers and 17 RBIs over his last 10.
Ortiz homered on Wednesday and led off the ninth with a single, enabling Boston to notch its amazing eighth last at-bat victory in April.
“It means we’re playing a lot of close games, but it also means that we’ll continue to play,” Francona told the team’s official Web site. “It’s not always easy, but it’s a heck of a lot better to win than lose.”
Tim Wakefield (2-0, 4.06 ERA) will take the mound Thursday looking to become the first Red Sox starter to win since Clay Buchholz beat Texas on April 21. Since 2004, Wakefield is 8-3 with a 3.36 ERA in 12 starts against the Blue Jays.
Toronto came into the season thinking it had enough of a balance between solid pitching and timely hitting to contend in the AL East.
But the Blue Jays have dropped eight of their last nine games to fall into last place, and while Boston’s offense has gone through a mini-slump, Toronto’s is full-blown.
The Jays have scored just 22 runs in that stretch and they’re hitting a major-league worst .211 with runners in scoring position.
“We’ve been getting guys on base,” manager John Gibbons told the team’s official Web site. “We just haven’t been getting them in. … I think we chase the pitching a little bit more when we get guys in scoring position, chasing out of the zone a little bit.”
With such little offense lately, Toronto will likely need a quality start from A.J. Burnett (2-2, 6.07) to win. The oft-injured right-hander showed some positive signs in his latest start, going 7 1-3 innings on Friday and allowing five runs - three earned - in an 8-4 loss at Kansas City.
He struck out a season-high six, though, in his deepest outing of the season.
Burnett’s last three starts against Boston have gone well. He’s 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA, including a three-hitter in a 5-1 win in his only outing at Fenway on Sept. 2, 2006.