Blue Jays-Red Sox Preview

The Boston Red Sox responded well after losing six straight to
open the season. It’s uncertain if they’d react as well to losing
six in a row during a pennant race.

Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield gets another shot at his 200th
victory Tuesday night when Boston opens a two-game set against the
visiting Toronto Blue Jays.

After opening 0-6 – their slowest start since a team-worst 0-8
skid to begin 1945 – Boston (85-61) reeled off 30 wins in its next
46 games to move atop the AL East.

The Red Sox led the division by 1 1/2 games over the New York
Yankees when the calendar flipped to September, but they’ve lost
nine of 11 this month. After dropping three of four at Toronto
(74-73) from Sept. 5-8, Boston was swept at Tampa Bay over the
weekend to fall 3 1/2 back of the Yankees.

The Rays, who arrive at Fenway Park on Thursday for a four-game
set, inched within 3 1/2 of the wild-card-leading Red Sox.

“We’re kind of in a fight right now, we know that,” manager
Terry Francona said following Sunday’s 9-1 loss in St. Petersburg.
“It’s not real pretty. We’ll come out and fight, and hopefully play
better.”

If that’s going to happen, the Red Sox will likely need
improvement from their starters, who have a 9.00 ERA during the
team’s five-game losing streak. No starter has lasted more than
five innings in that stretch.

Wakefield (6-6, 5.03 ERA) left with an 8-5 lead after five
innings Wednesday, but Daniel Bard blew his fourth save of the
season in an 11-10 loss at Toronto.

Boston has squandered three leads in the eight games Wakefield
has pitched trying to win No. 200.

“If it doesn’t (happen), it doesn’t change what I’ve done,” said
Wakefield, 0-3 with a 4.79 ERA since beating Seattle on July 24.
“I’d like it to happen, but more importantly is for us to get in
the postseason.”

The Blue Jays won’t see the playoffs for the 18th straight year,
but the future looks bright if the club’s youngsters can continue
to deliver.

Brett Lawrie, 5 for 11 with a homer in the series against Boston
last week, is batting .312 with a team-leading nine homers and 23
RBIs since being called up Aug. 5.

September call-ups Adam Loewen and David Cooper also have
started to provide some pop.

Loewen, who last appeared in the majors as a pitcher with
Baltimore in 2008, hit his first career homer in Sunday’s 6-5
victory over the Orioles. Cooper went deep for the second time
Sunday, helping give Toronto a major league-best 43 homers from
rookies.

Jose Bautista drove in two runs Sunday, just as he did Saturday,
when he hit his major league-leading 41st homer.

He’ll look to provide more production for Tuesday’s scheduled
starter, Brandon Morrow (9-10, 5.12).

The right-hander is 0-3 with a 9.74 ERA in his last four outings
after yielding eight runs in 4 1-3 innings Wednesday. Morrow has
been tagged for eight home runs during that stretch.

“It has been a really frustrating stretch of starts,” he told
the Blue Jays’ official website. “… The problem has been getting
the fastball to the first-base side of the plate.”

Morrow is 1-1 with a 13.83 ERA in three starts versus Boston
this season, and he should be particularly careful against Jacoby
Ellsbury. The center fielder is 5 for 9 against Morrow this year,
including a three-run homer Wednesday, and is hitting .353 during a
16-game hitting streak.

Boston has won five of seven at Fenway in this divisional
matchup in 2011 and leads the season series 9-7.