With the wild card seemingly locked up, the Boston Red Sox can now focus on tuning up for the playoffs. Another strong performance from Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) would go a long way toward helping them feel a lot better about the postseason.
Matsuzaka looks to build on his best start of 2009 on Sunday when the Red Sox try to make it 16 wins in 18 games this season against the Baltimore Orioles in the finale of a three-game series.
With Josh Beckett(notes) and Jon Lester(notes) locked into the first two spots of Boston’s playoff rotation, the third and fourth slots remain unclear as Tim Wakefield(notes) tries to overcome an injury, while Brad Penny(notes) and John Smoltz(notes) both pitched their way off the Red Sox (88-59). Clay Buchholz(notes) likely has earned the third spot by going 5-0 with a 2.80 ERA in his last seven starts.
Matsuzaka (2-5, 7.02 ERA) figured to challenge Beckett for the role of ace after going 33-15 in his first two seasons after coming from Japan. The right-hander, however, struggled at the start of 2009 after pitching in the World Baseball Classic and didn’t complete six innings in any of his eight starts before he was shut down with shoulder problems in June.
Matsuzaka returned from a three-month stint on the disabled list Tuesday and was stellar in a 4-1 victory over the Angels. He pitched six shutout innings, giving up three hits while walking three and striking out five.
“We’re in the middle of a playoff race, and we don’t have a lot of leeway,” said Matsuzaka, who won for the first time since June 2. “I just want to do my best to contribute.”
Sunday should be the second of four starts for Matsuzaka before the end of the regular season.
“I’ve been a burden on my teammates. I feel that I owe them,” he said. “There’s not much left in the season. In the limited opportunity I do have, I want to show my appreciation to my teammates and the fans.”
Matsuzaka is 2-1 with a 4.72 ERA in five starts against the Orioles (60-88).
Boston made it seven straight wins over Baltimore with an 11-5 victory Saturday night, as Lester won his sixth consecutive decision.
Boston clinched its 11th straight series win over the Orioles and improved to 18-8 at Camden Yards since the start of the 2007 season.
Lester became the 12th consecutive Red Sox starter to allow three runs or fewer. Boston’s rotation is 5-0 with a 2.10 ERA over an eight-game stretch.
Jason Berken(notes) (5-11, 6.08) starts for Baltimore looking to win his fourth straight decision. The right-hander is 3-0 in his last five outings after losing 11 of his previous 12 decisions. He settled down after allowing four first-inning runs against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, and pitched into the seventh to earn the win in the Orioles’ 10-5 victory.
Berken has been hit hard in three starts against the Red Sox this season, going 0-2 with a 10.03 ERA.