A timely three-game winning streak has pulled the Boston Red Sox out of last place and given them some confidence after a surprisingly poor start.
A strong performance from Jon Lester would make them feel even better.
Lester will try to rebound from a pair of rough starts and remain unbeaten against the Baltimore Orioles when the AL East rivals continue their four-game set at Fenway Park on Sunday.
The Red Sox (5-6) seem to have sorted out some of the offensive problems that plagued them during a 2-6 start, as they’ve now scored 24 runs while winning three straight to move ahead of Tampa Bay and out of the division cellar.
With a .467 batting average, Kevin Youkilis continues to carry Boston’s offense. Youkilis was 4-for-5 in a 6-4 victory on Saturday night, mixing in a home run and a pair of doubles while racking up four RBIs.
“He’s swinging as good as anybody in the league,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “Last year he developed into one of the league’s premier hitters and he’s picked right up where he left off.”
Lester (0-2, 9.00 ERA) also enjoyed a breakout 2008 season that included a no-hitter and a 3.21 ERA in 210 1-3 innings, but the left-hander has stumbled in his first two starts this year, giving up 18 hits and 11 earned runs in 11 innings.
He matched a career high with 10 hits allowed Monday at Oakland, where he gave up six runs in six innings an 8-2 loss.
“I don’t think I pitched as bad as the linescore says,” said Lester, who also allowed two homers. “I feel like I’m executing my pitches and not getting the results I want. Yeah, it was frustrating.”
Facing the Orioles might help. Lester is 6-0 with a 2.81 ERA in eight career starts against Baltimore, with wins in each of his four home outings in the series.
The Orioles (6-5) have lost seven straight at Fenway, and they’ve now dropped three in a row overall after their strong start. Their offense continues to produce, but their 6.49 team ERA ranks among the worst in the majors and they have allowed an AL-high 24 home runs.
“There will be a time where it will turn around,” Baltimore catcher Gregg Zaun told his team’s official Web site. “… These guys are talented. We’ve just hit a bad stretch over the past couple of games.”
The addition of Koji Uehara to their rotation hasn’t helped those numbers, even though Uehara (2-0, 7.20) has won his first two major league starts after coming over from his native Japan.
The right-hander beat Texas on Monday despite allowing seven runs and seven hits including two homers in five innings of a 10-9 win.
A pair of Uehara’s countrymen helped lead the Red Sox to Saturday’s win, as Hideki Okajima and Takashi Saito each pitched a scoreless inning in relief before Jonathan Papelbon saved Josh Beckett’s victory.
With a 2.82 ERA this season, Boston’s bullpen been especially impressive lately, allowing one run in 19 2-3 innings in the team’s last four games.
The teams finish the series Monday in the traditional 11:05 a.m. Patriots’ Day start.