With a playoff berth all but assured, the Boston Red Sox will turn some of their focus toward getting their starting pitchers ready for the postseason.
Buchholz has won his last five decisions, a streak he’ll look to extend Thursday as the visiting Red Sox try to salvage a four-game split with the Kansas City Royals.
Boston’s 9-2 win on Wednesday lowered its magic number to clinch the AL wild card to five. Although the Red Sox (90-61) visit the New York Yankees for three games this weekend, their chances of erasing a six-game deficit in the AL East are slim.
As a result, Red Sox manager Terry Francona will soon begin lining up his rotation for a likely division series against the Los Angeles Angels, and Buchholz (6-3, 3.49 ERA) appears to have pitched himself into the No. 3 spot.
The right-hander threw a no-hitter in 2007 before losing seven consecutive decisions last year, but his roller-coaster career has steadied. He is 5-0 in his last seven starts and has a 2.64 ERA in his last nine outings.
Buchholz gave up one run in six innings of a 3-1 win at Baltimore on Friday, the third straight start in which he has allowed one or zero runs.
“Every outing, he’s getting better and better,” catcher Victor Martinez(notes) told the Red Sox’s official Web site. “I think the most important thing is that he’s getting comfortable on the mound. He’s just been throwing good pitches and being able to mix all his pitches and getting ahead in the count. That’s a big thing for a pitcher.”
Martinez has been a problem for opposing pitchers lately, putting together a career-best 22-game hitting streak. He’s batting .349 with 16 RBIs during the streak and has become more of a fixture behind the plate with Jason Varitek(notes) struggling.
The Red Sox had little trouble offensively Wednesday, punctuating the win with David Ortiz’s(notes) 25th home run, a three-run shot in the ninth inning. Boston has scored at least nine runs four times in its last five games, and the team ranks second in the majors - behind the Yankees - with 285 runs since the July 31 acquisition of Martinez.
The lineup will face a virtual unknown Thursday in Anthony Lerew(notes), who will be making his Royals debut in a rotation lacking injured right-handers Gil Meche(notes), Kyle Davies(notes) and Brian Bannister(notes).
Lerew has fought back from Tommy John surgery to make his first major league appearance since May 19, 2007, when he allowed three runs in two innings of a 13-3 loss to the Red Sox while he was with Atlanta. He has an 0-2 record and 8.31 ERA in 11 big league outings, all with the Braves.
Kansas City signed the right-hander to a minor league deal in March, and he was 10-6 with a 4.09 ERA in 27 starts for Double-A Northwest Arkansas this year.
“The reports are that he’s been very committed and dedicated and has pretty good stuff,” manager Trey Hillman told the Royals’ official Web site.
The Royals (63-89) have also been pretty good lately, winning 12 of 15 overall and six straight at home before Wednesday’s defeat. They haven’t lost back-to-back games since a four-game skid Sept. 2-6.
Kansas City needs a win to split the eight-game season series with the Red Sox and avoid a 90th loss one day after Boston earned its 90th win.