Terry Francona’s solution for how the Boston Red Sox can hold on to their shrinking wild-card lead sounds simple. It’s the execution of it that continues to be a problem.
Looking to snap a three-game skid, the sinking Red Sox conclude their season series with the archrival New York Yankees in a day-night doubleheader Sunday in the Bronx.
After winning its first six games at Yankee Stadium this year, Boston (88-69) hoped its success in New York would continue and allow it to halt its ongoing September collapse. Instead, the AL East champion Yankees scored six times in the second inning en route to a 9-1 win Saturday, dropping the Red Sox to 5-17 this month.
While the victory and Detroit’s loss later in the day secured homefield advantage throughout the AL playoffs for New York (96-61), Boston’s wild-card lead fell to 1 1/2 games after Tampa Bay beat Toronto. The teams could be tied with three games left if the Red Sox are swept in the doubleheader and the Rays win Sunday.
Boston ends the regular season at Baltimore, while the Rays host New York.
Regardless of opponent, Francona knows what his team must do.
“It’s up to us to go win,” he said. “We know what’s in front of us, we just have to play better.”
That has not been easy for the Red Sox, who are 4-15 since holding a nine-game wild-card lead over Tampa Bay on Sept. 4.
“That’s surprising,” manager Joe Girardi told the Yankees’ official website. “I don’t think any of us could have predicted that because of the talent.”
Boston’s starting pitching has been perhaps the biggest concern, as the rotation has posted a 7.35 ERA over the last 19 games. With the struggling pair of Tim Wakefield(notes) and John Lackey(notes) set to pitch Sunday, Jon Lester(notes) did not help matters by giving up eight runs in 2 2-3 innings Saturday.
Scheduled to start the first game, Wakefield (7-7, 5.08 ERA) has gone 1-3 with a 6.21 ERA in his last six starts. After recording his 200th victory Sept. 13, the knuckleballer allowed six runs in five innings of an 8-5 loss to the Rays last Sunday.
The right-hander gave up five runs in 5 1-3 innings but came out ahead in an 11-6 victory at Yankee Stadium on June 8.
Lackey (12-12, 6.49) is 0-3 with a 9.12 ERA in his last five starts. He gave up eight runs and 11 hits in 4 1-3 innings of an 18-9 win over Baltimore on Monday.
“I’m pretty frustrated,” Lackey said.
The right-hander is 2-1 with a 6.50 ERA in three starts against New York this season - all at Fenway Park. He has gone 0-1 and allowed nine runs over 12 innings in his last two regular season starts in the Bronx.
New York will send A.J. Burnett(notes) (10-11, 5.28) to the mound in the first game and Ivan Nova(notes) in the nightcap. While Nova (16-4, 3.62) is the likely Game 2 starter for the AL division series, Burnett’s postseason fate remains uncertain.
Burnett lasted four innings and allowed four runs despite striking out eight in a 6-4 win over Minnesota on Monday. The right-hander, who has recorded 19 strikeouts over his last two outings, is 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in two starts versus Boston this year.
Nova allowed six hits in 7 2-3 innings of a 5-0 victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday, moving to 12-0 with a 3.09 ERA in his last 15 starts.
Though the Yankees expect Nova to be a key contributor in October, he’s trying not to look too far ahead.
“I just know about the season right now,” said Nova, who leads all rookies in wins. “There’s a lot of things that are coming next. It’s going to be exciting.”
Nova, however, struggled in his only 2011 start versus Boston, giving up four runs in 4 1-3 innings of a 9-4 win at Fenway on April 9.
Highly regarded rookie Jesus Montero(notes) has gone 6 for 7 with a homer and six RBIs in his last two games. He’s batting .346 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 15 games since making his major league debut Sept. 1.