The Boston Red Sox were bested by upstart Tampa Bay in the AL East race last year.
Early this year, the Red Sox find themselves chasing another surprising front-runner in the Toronto Blue Jays, and the division’s top teams meet for the first time Tuesday night in a three-game series at Fenway Park.
Toronto (27-14) boasts the AL’s best record and has a 3 1/2-game lead over the Red Sox after a four-game home sweep of Chicago. Alex Rios’(notes) go-ahead triple in the eighth inning gave the Blue Jays a 3-2 victory in the series finale Monday.
“I had some good years back there,” said Toronto’s Kevin Millar(notes), who won the 2004 World Series with Boston. “It’s a fun place to play, one of my favorite parks and it’s nice going there leading the East.”
Toronto is 12-5 this month and has benefited from playing 12 of 17 May games at home, but will get a test during a nine-game road trip.
Toronto went 3-2 on its other trip this month through Los Angeles and Oakland from May 6-10. In going 11-8 away from home, the Blue Jays have scored a major league-leading 234 runs and hit an AL-best .289.
They’ll be facing a Red Sox club that’s struggled to find consistency after an 11-game win streak. Boston is 9-10 since April 27.
The Red Sox have batted .308 while going 13-4 at Fenway, compared to .248 while posting a 9-12 mark on the road.
Starting shortstop Julio Lugo(notes), batting .333, is expected to return Tuesday from a strained groin that forced him to miss parts of two games. Struggling designated hitter David Ortiz(notes), benched during the Seattle series, is also expected to be back in the lineup.
Ortiz, batting .208 with no home runs, was 12 for 67 (.179) last season against Toronto as the teams split 18 meetings. He batted .250 versus the Blue Jays at Fenway, where Boston won five of nine matchups.
Jacoby Ellsbury(notes) will try to extend a 13-game hit streak by recording a hit in his seventh straight versus Toronto. Ellsbury, batting .375 (21 of 61) since May 2, is 10 for 26 (.385) in his last six games versus the Blue Jays.
Tuesday’s scheduled starter Tim Wakefield(notes) (4-2, 4.03 ERA) has won both of his home starts this season with a 2.08 ERA. He struggled again on the road in his last start, giving up seven runs in 4 2-3 innings of Wednesday night’s 8-4 loss to the Angels.
Wakefield is 9-4 with a 3.11 ERA in his last 14 starts versus the Blue Jays, and 16-11 with a 3.76 ERA in 48 career games against them. He threw eight innings in a 7-0 victory Sept. 12 in his last matchup with Toronto.
Since a disastrous outing April 29 in Kansas City when he allowed 10 runs in four innings, the left-hander has gone 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA in three starts.
Tallet won his only start against Boston with six scoreless innings in a 7-1 victory for Cleveland on Sept. 16, 2002. He’s since made 15 relief appearances versus the Red Sox, going 0-1 with a 5.87 ERA.