Red Sox-Royals Preview

The Associated Press

Jon Lester doesn't seem overly concerned about his last outing.

The Boston left-hander, though, should be worried about the Kansas City Royals - even if he's been at his best against them.

Lester and the AL East-leading Red Sox continue their 10-game trip Thursday night against a Royals team going for a 14th win in 16 tries.

After yielding two total runs while winning his first two starts after the All-Star break, Lester (10-6, 4.52 ERA) gave up a season-high 11 hits and six runs in Friday's 7-6 loss to Arizona.

"It's not like I need to reinvent any type of wheel or come out and start throwing right-handed or anything,'' said Lester, who allowed five doubles and a homer in a season-low 4 1-3 innings. "It's pretty simple - get the ball down."

Lester hasn't had issues with that against the Royals (58-53), going 6-2 with a 1.64 ERA in nine starts. It's his lowest ERA against any team he's faced more than four times.

Prior to giving up three runs in a 4-3 home win over Kansas City on Aug. 24, Lester had allowed one earned run or fewer in his previous six starts in this matchup, beginning with a no-hitter May 19, 2008, at Fenway Park.

Lester gets the ball after Boston (70-46) took two of three at Houston. After rallying from five down in Tuesday's 15-10 victory, the Red Sox won 7-5 on Wednesday with Stephen Drew's one-out, three-run homer in the ninth the difference.

"Everybody has been clutch in late innings," Drew, who's hit safely in eight straight, said after helping Boston surpass last season's win total. "That is what good teams do."

The Red Sox, up 2 1/2 on Tampa Bay in the East, will now face a Kansas City team that's won six consecutive series - its longest run since taking nine straight in 1991 - after grabbing two of three from Minnesota with Wednesday's 5-2 victory.

The Royals are in the midst of a 15-4 second-half surge, but they've actually lost a half-game in the standings to Detroit, which won its 11th straight Wednesday. Kansas City is 8 1/2 behind the Tigers and five games out of the second wild-card spot.

The Royals, though, have to like their chances moving forward if their bullpen keeps delivering. That group has a 1.32 ERA over the last 15 games.

"We feel really comfortable when we give them the lead," said first baseman Eric Hosmer, batting .379 with three homers and 12 RBIs during the 13-2 run.

The Royals' rotation has also been outstanding, with just one starter in the last 16 games giving up more that two runs, and Bruce Chen (4-0, 2.03) hasn't surrendered more than a pair in any of his four starts since replacing Luis Mendoza in the rotation.

The left-hander is 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in those outings after throwing six innings of one-run ball in Saturday's 4-3, 12-inning win at the New York Mets.

Chen has surrendered one homer in each of his last three appearances.

The Red Sox have five home runs in their last two contests, with Jacoby Ellsbury and Jonny Gomes each hitting two.

Gomes leads active Red Sox with two homers off Chen.

David Ortiz, 8 for 9 in the last two games, has gone deep once against Chen (7 for 25). So have Dustin Pedroia (5 for 11) and Ellsbury (3 for 8).

Daniel Nava, expected back from the paternity list, had one of the two hits off Chen in his 2-3 scoreless innings of relief in Kansas City's 4-2 victory April 21.

The Royals won two of three in Boston's last visit May 7-9, 2012.

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