The Red Sox look to win their fourth straight and move above .500 for the first time this season Monday night when they host an Orioles team seeking a third consecutive win.
Boston (20-20) is coming off its first three-game sweep of the New York Yankees in the Bronx since April 2004. The Red Sox outscored the Yankees 18-9 over the weekend and have won six of eight to finally reach .500 after a 2-10 start.
“Hopefully this is a step in us moving forward,” manager Terry Francona said. “It’s not really what our goal is but we’re making strides. We played a good series.”
The last time Boston was playing this well, it had won seven of eight before dropping two of three at Baltimore (19-20) from April 26-28. The Red Sox lost five of eight after that series.
Given the way Boston is now hitting, it might be harder for the Orioles to slow their AL East rival this time. The Red Sox have scored five or more runs in five of their last eight games and have homered 11 times in their last five contests.
One of the players seeing the ball well is David Ortiz(notes), who had a home run and a double among his three hits in Sunday night’s 7-5 victory. The veteran slugger is batting .340 in May, and has three homers in his last five games.
The Orioles have won five of six, including two of three at division leader Tampa Bay over the weekend. After being shut out in the opener, Baltimore won 6-0 on Saturday and 9-3 in Sunday’s finale behind a grand slam from J.J. Hardy(notes).
While the shortstop provided the biggest hit, starting pitching explains the Orioles’ recent success. Baltimore’s rotation has posted six straight quality starts, compiling a 1.64 ERA in that stretch.
“The starting pitching, it’s where it all starts,” Hardy said. “Our guys have been doing great.”
Chris Tillman(notes) (2-3, 6.15 ERA) will get the ball for the series opener. The right-hander enjoyed one of his finest starts of the season Wednesday, limiting Seattle to one run and three hits in six innings of a 4-2 win.
Tillman had lasted only 3 2-3 innings in his previous start, a 9-1 loss at Kansas City on May 5 in which he surrendered eight runs and 10 hits in 3 2-3 innings.
His only career start against the Red Sox ended even quicker. Tillman yielded four runs and five hits in 1 1-3 innings of an 11-0 home loss to Boston on June 4.
The right-hander gave up three runs in a 34-pitch first inning May 8 against Minnesota, but settled down after that, finishing with four runs allowed in six innings of a 9-5 victory.
Matsuzaka pitched into the sixth inning for only the third time in six starts.
He has labored over his career against the Orioles, going 4-3 with a 5.73 ERA including 1-2 with a 7.56 ERA in three starts last year.