A second straight AL East title is still a possibility for the Boston Red Sox. A trip to the postseason via the wild card is a much easier scenario.
The Red Sox look to tighten their grip on a playoff spot when they conclude a four-game series on Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Boston (87-61) cooled off red-hot Toronto (80-69) by winning the series opener 7-0 on Friday, then rallied for a 7-5 victory in the nightcap of Saturday’s doubleheader after losing the first game 8-1.
With Tampa Bay splitting a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox remained two games behind the Rays in the division. Boston’s lead in the wild-card race was cut to five games over Minnesota, which swept a doubleheader on Saturday at Baltimore.
“Obviously, we know what’s going on,” Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury said. “I don’t think there was any more urgency. We try to win every game.”
The Blue Jays had been the AL’s hottest team, winning 11 of 12 before losing two of three in this series. Those defeats all but ended Toronto’s wild-card hopes as it sits 7 1/2 games behind Boston with only 13 games left.
“I think we had to win three out of four to get us back in it,” Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay said.
Dustin Pedroia went 3-for-5 with two doubles in Saturday’s win, giving him 200 hits and 50 doubles this season. The only other Red Sox players to do that were Tris Speaker in 1912 and Wade Boggs in 1989.
Jon Lester (14-5, 3.23 ERA) looks to continue his run of outstanding pitching and win his third straight start for Boston.
The left-hander is 2-0 with a stellar 0.93 ERA in his last three starts, walking seven and striking out 22 during that span. He scattered six hits over 7 2-3 innings in a 3-0 victory over Tampa Bay on Monday, matching a season high with nine strikeouts.
Lester has been particularly good at home, winning five straight starts and nine consecutive decisions since losing his season debut at Fenway Park to Detroit on April 9.
He pitched brilliantly in his first two career starts against the Blue Jays, but was roughed up for seven runs and eight hits over 2 1-3 innings in an 11-0 loss at Toronto on Aug. 23.
Toronto ace Roy Halladay (18-10, 2.77) will start on three days’ rest as the Blue Jays hang on to very slim playoff hopes.
Halladay continues to chase his second 20-win season and first since he won a career-high 22 games in 2003. He will merit Cy Young Award consideration as he ranks second in the AL in wins and ERA, third in strikeouts (193) and first in complete games (8).
The right-hander had won five consecutive starts before struggling in a 6-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday. He gave up a season high-tying five earned runs and nine hits in six innings as the Blue Jays’ 10-game win streak was snapped.
Halladay has been very successful in five career starts on short rest, going 4-1 with a 2.83 ERA while striking out 22 and walking one in 35 innings.
He is 2-1 with a 2.10 ERA in three starts this season against the Red Sox, limiting them to two runs in 17 2-3 innings over the last two meetings.