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Tue, Jul 2, 2013 - 7:10 PM ET
 

Padres-Red Sox Preview

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Owners of the AL's best record, the Boston Red Sox aren't showing any signs of slowing down.

The Red Sox try to stay hot behind John Lackey as they open a three-game set against the visiting San Diego Padres on Tuesday night.

Leading the majors with 5.13 runs per game, Boston's 2012 last-place finish in the AL East has long since been forgotten. The Red Sox (50-34) became the league's first team to 50 wins Sunday after beating Toronto 5-4 in walkoff fashion.

Blue Jays first baseman Josh Thole couldn't handle Shane Victorino's grounder, allowing Jonathan Diaz to score the winning run. Boston has hit .346 in winning five of six.

"I think a lot of people doubted this team," said Victorino, who despite going 0 for 5 is batting .350 with a homer and 10 RBIs in his last nine games. "We've got that target on our back because we're in first place. But you know what? We're up for the challenge.

"With 50 wins, people are going to keep talking about that. It's not enough. We've got to keep going."

The Red Sox are surely feeling good about their chances of doing just that with Lackey (5-5, 2.99 ERA) on the mound. The right-hander has gone 4-1 with a 2.44 ERA over his last eight starts, throwing seven innings in each of his last three.

"I've been feeling pretty good," said Lackey, who missed all of last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. "I still feel like I'm getting stronger. It was a process, a lot of work, I'm still building."

Lackey was at his best in Wednesday's 5-3 win over Colorado, allowing two runs while striking out a career high-tying 12.

"That's the Lackey of old," Victorino told MLB's official website. "Going out there and doing what he is doing, going deep into the ballgames. His velocity is back, too. I think that's what makes it important."

The former All-Star has been especially good at home, going 3-1 with a 1.36 ERA and 37 strikeouts in five starts spanning 33 innings.

"It speaks to where my stuff's at right now," he said of the strikeouts.

In his only start versus San Diego (40-43), Lackey surrendered five runs, four hits and four walks over 3 1-3 innings in a 5-1 loss June 22, 2011. A repeat performance seems unlikely against a Padres team that's hit .224 and scored 25 runs during a 2-7 slide.

San Diego took Friday's opener 9-2 before dropping three straight at Miami by a 17-3 margin, including Monday's 4-0 defeat.

"It's not the results you want. To come out with a loss is not a good day," said losing pitcher Jason Marquis, whose team was limited to three hits.

The Padres will try to regroup behind rookie Robbie Erlin (1-0, 3.60), who allowed three runs and four hits in 6 1-3 innings Wednesday in a 7-5, 13-inning loss to Philadelphia.

"That's a good, experienced lineup over there. He did a great job," manager Bud Black said. "I'm very proud of Robbie. He pitched with the fastball, both sides of the plate."

The left-hander will need to be careful against Jacoby Ellsbury, who's batting .404 with seven RBIs and nine runs during an 11-game hitting streak. The speedy center fielder has also hit safely in each of his last nine interleague contests, going 19 for 40 (.475) with 10 runs and seven stolen bases.

Padres infielder Pedro Ciriaco, acquired from Boston on June 14 in exchange for future considerations, faces his former club for the first time.

Tagged: Red Sox, Padres, John Lackey, Shane Victorino

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