The Boston Red Sox have an opportunity this weekend to move closer to nailing down a playoff spot while all but ending the postseason hopes of their closest pursuers in the AL East.
The Red Sox begin a four-game home series against the surging Toronto Blue Jays on Friday night when they close in on a fifth postseason berth in six seasons.
Boston (85-60) leads the AL wild-card race by 5 1/2 games over Minnesota, while Toronto (79-67) is 6 1/2 games back. The Red Sox and Blue Jays have seven meetings left, giving Toronto a glimmer of hope of drawing closer.
The Blue Jays have played very well against the Red Sox this season, going 7-4 with three straight wins at Fenway Park. They’ve won 11 of 12 overall following a three-game skid.
Toronto will be facing a Boston team that lost the final two games of a three-game series with Tampa Bay, dropping the finale 4-2 in 14 innings Wednesday night. The Red Sox’s bullpen was taxed in that game, with five relievers combining to pitch eight innings.
Though Boston was off Thursday, giving its bullpen a break, it could certainly use a lengthy outing from Tim Wakefield (8-10, 4.11 ERA), who was roughed up in the shortest start of his season his last time out. The veteran right-hander lasted 1 2-3 innings against Texas on Saturday night, giving up a season-high seven runs and four hits as the Red Sox lost 15-8.
“(Wakefield’s) done a great job this season, and I think we’ve kind of blown a few of his leads, so I think his loss column is a little higher and he knows it,” Sean Casey told Boston’s official Web site. “But he’s really done a great job this year giving us innings and doing a good job.”
Wakefield is 0-1 with a 4.15 ERA in two starts versus the Blue Jays this season, and 15-11 with a 3.87 ERA in 37 starts and 10 relief appearances against them lifetime.
Toronto will counter with David Purcey (3-5, 5.23). He is coming off the best start of his career, allowing six hits while striking out seven in eight innings as Toronto beat Tampa Bay 1-0 on Sunday.
The rookie left-hander gave up five runs in two of his previous three starts. This will be his first appearance against Boston.
“It doesn’t really matter what team you face, as long as you go out there and try to execute your pitches,” Purcey said. “That’s the mentality that I’m going to take out there.”
If the Blue Jays can grab a late lead, it should be in good hands with closer B.J. Ryan. The veteran left-hander is 1-0 while posting a 0.69 ERA and converting all five of his save opportunities during his last 12 appearances against Boston.
Ryan earned his 29th save in 33 opportunities Thursday night, striking out the side in Toronto’s 6-4 win over the Chicago White Sox.