Blue Jays-Red Sox Preview

Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell isn't surprised that his former team, the Toronto Blue Jays, are working their way back into contention in the AL East.

Farrell will also be hoping that Jon Lester can return to the form he has displayed against Toronto this year in Thursday night's opener of a four-game set at Fenway Park.

Although Toronto (39-38) is still in last place, its deficit behind first-place Boston (47-33) is down to 6 1/2 games with the Blue Jays winning 12 of 14.

Farrell, who managed the Blue Jays for two years before taking over the Red Sox this season, never thought Toronto would continue to flounder after a rough start.

"Not surprised at all. They're pitching much more consistently of late over the last month," Farrell told the Red Sox's official website. "Their bullpen has been outstanding, and they're getting more consistent starting pitching. I think everyone fully anticipated them scoring a lot of runs, but over the stretch that they're on, you can point to their pitching as being much improved."

Toronto's bullpen owns a 0.80 ERA over the last 14 games and its starters have one of the best ERAs in baseball over that stretch at 2.86.

Lester (7-4, 4.57 ERA), meanwhile, threw a one-hitter in a 5-0 win over the Blue Jays on May 10. He is 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA in three 2013 outings against Toronto, but he's 1-4 with a 7.30 ERA in his last seven.

The victory in that span came last Friday at Detroit even though the left-hander gave up five runs over 5 2-3 innings in a 10-6 win.

"I don't think (the) stretch he's on will continue," Farrell said. "He's too talented of a pitcher."

Toronto's Melky Cabrera, J.P. Arencibia and Edwin Encarnacion have combined to go 3 for 27 with just one homer against Lester this year.

Jose Reyes is 1 for 6 lifetime against Lester, and the Toronto shortstop will hope to fare better than his 0-for-4 effort in Wednesday's 3-0 victory at Tampa Bay. It was Reyes' first action since April 12 due to a left ankle sprain.

"Everything felt the way that I expected,'' said Reyes, 8 for 12 against the Red Sox this year. "I enjoyed being out there because I missed that for a long time."

The Blue Jays are hoping starter Chien-Ming Wang (1-0, 2.18) can extend his streak of 16 2-3 innings without allowing an earned run. Toronto is 3-0 when he pitches, and he yielded an unearned run over 6 1-3 innings Saturday although he did not get a decision in a 4-2 home victory over Baltimore.

Wang is 3-4 with a 5.40 ERA in eight starts at Fenway.

He will probably be most concerned about David Ortiz, who is 16 for 37 with two homers against the right-hander.

Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia each went 5 for 9 as the Red Sox swept a two-game set from Colorado this week to begin a nine-game homestand.

Pedroia is hitting .385 against Toronto while Mike Napoli has five homers and 12 RBIs in the season series.

Encarnacion homered for the fourth time in eight games Wednesday, but he's 6 for 36 against Boston this year as Toronto has dropped five of nine meetings.