Although this hasn’t been a very good road trip for the Boston Red Sox, the sting has been diminished by a slump from their closest pursuer in the AL East.
With a .500 trip the best possible outcome, the Red Sox try to avoid their second consecutive series loss Thursday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.
When Boston (72-50) left for this 10-game trip Aug. 4, it held a one-game lead over Tampa Bay in the division. Five losses in nine games gave the Rays a golden opportunity to close the gap, but they lost a season-high six straight before rallying for a 5-4 victory over Seattle on Wednesday to move within three games of the Red Sox.
Poor starting pitching has been Boston’s biggest problem on the trip, with the rotation posting a 4.93 ERA. Jon Lester, though, wasn’t to blame for Wednesday’s 4-3, 10-inning loss as his quality start was offset by his team’s 1-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position.
The Red Sox left the bases loaded in the ninth and stranded runners at first and second in the 10th.
”Late in the game, we continue to put up good at-bats,” manager John Farrell said. ”Unfortunately, that two-out hit that can make the difference was elusive in both innings.”
Slumping Mike Napoli forced extras with a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth. Napoli, who hadn’t homered since July 24 and was dropped to seventh in the order, is batting .128 (6 for 47) with 20 strikeouts in his last 13 games.
”Hopefully that puts him in a good frame of mind,” Lester said. ”He should be pumped about that, he should be excited.”
David Ortiz hit his team-leading 23rd home run for Boston and is batting .424 (14 for 33) on the trip. His 32 home runs at Rogers Centre are his most at any stadium other then Fenway Park.
The Red Sox need a win in the finale to avoid losing consecutive series for the first time since dropping three in a row May 3-12.
Brett Lawrie singled home the winning run to give the Blue Jays (55-65) their second victory in seven games. That was the only hit of the night for Lawrie, batting .407 in his last 16 contests.
He’ll look to continue that hot stretch against Jake Peavy (9-4, 4.50 ERA), who has had mixed results in his first two starts with Boston. The veteran right-hander threw seven strong innings in a 5-2 win over Arizona in his Red Sox debut Aug. 3, but allowed six runs and a season-high 10 hits over five-plus innings before leaving without a decision in a 9-6 loss at Kansas City on Friday.
”You’ve got to win games when your offense scores six,” Peavy said. “I didn’t feel good stuff-wise or control-wise.”
Peavy is 2-0 with a 2.15 ERA in his last four starts against the Blue Jays. He’s been especially tough on sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, who are a combined 6 for 32 (.187) in this matchup.
Toronto counters with Mark Buehrle (8-7, 4.43), who aims to continue his best stretch of the season. The left-hander is 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA in his last four starts after posting a 5.52 ERA in his previous five outings. He wasn’t at his best in a 5-4 win over Oakland on Saturday though, yielding three runs and seven hits in 5 1-3 innings.
Buehrle is 0-4 with a 4.97 ERA in eight starts against the Red Sox since last beating them Sept. 7, 2009, with the White Sox.
Ortiz is batting .358 with three homers and nine doubles against Buehrle, while Jonny Gomes (7 for 21) and Will Middlebrooks (5 for 10) also have fared well.