The Boston Red Sox haven’t been at their best on the road this season, but it’s looking more and more like that’s where they’ll have to begin the postseason.
First, they’d like to guarantee that they’ll be there.
With a win and some help, the Red Sox could secure a playoff berth on Sunday, when they close their 2008 road schedule with the decisive game of their series at Toronto.
While Boston has won more than 70 percent of its games at Fenway Park this season, the club’s 38-42 road record hasn’t helped its cause as the defending World Series champions chase their second straight AL East title. That includes a 6-3 loss on Saturday at Toronto, where they’re 3-5 this year.
Boston (90-64) now trails division-leading Tampa Bay by 2 1/2 games - three in the loss column - with eight Red Sox games and nine Rays games remaining. After losing the season series with Tampa Bay, however, Boston would be the wild card team in the event of a tie, forcing them to open the playoffs in Anaheim.
“We’re still trying to catch Tampa,” Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury said. “It would have been nice to have won today but we know we’ve still got (eight) more.”
They may only need one more win to secure some kind of trip to the postseason. A victory over the Blue Jays combined with a New York Yankees loss to Baltimore on Sunday night would send the Red Sox to the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.
With Daisuke Matsuzaka on the mound, Boston has to like its chances to fulfill the first part of that formula. The Red Sox have won 22 of Matsuzaka’s 27 starts this season, beating Tampa Bay on Monday after the right-hander allowed one run in five innings of a 13-5 victory.
Still, Matsuzaka (17-2, 2.93 ERA) has struggled to pitch deep into games all year, and has lasted just five innings in each of his last two starts. He’s last in the majors with 5.17 walks per nine innings, and has walked 10 in 16 innings in his last three starts.
He’s 3-1 with a 4.58 ERA in six career starts against Toronto and has failed to record a decision in two appearances versus the Blue Jays this season. Matsuzaka gave up two hits in seven shutout innings during Boston’s 2-1 home win on April 30, then allowed five runs in six innings during the Red Sox’s 6-5, 11-inning win at Rogers Centre on Aug. 24.
“He’s had a great year,” Toronto’s Lyle Overbay told his team’s official Web site. “He’s got himself out of trouble quite a few times it seems like. When he needs to get a pitch, he’ll make that pitch. That’s what good pitchers do.”
The Blue Jays (83-72) will counter with rookie Scott Richmond, who’s filling Shaun Marcum’s spot in the rotation. The team announced this week that Marcum needs Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected back until 2010.
Richmond (0-2, 5.06) has spent most of this season in the minors, going 1-3 with a 3.56 ERA in eight starts for Triple-A Syracuse. The 29-year-old right-hander hasn’t pitched for Toronto since Aug. 10, when he lost after allowing three runs in five innings to Cleveland in his third major league start.