Red Sox-Rays Preview

To turn the tables on the Tampa Bay Rays and complete the first

sweep of the majors’ best team in 2010, the Boston Red Sox may have

to finally find a way to solve Matt Garza.

The right-hander has dominated Boston lately, but the Red Sox

will be seeking a season-best fifth straight victory to complete an

impressive road trip Wednesday night.

The Rays (32-14) outscored Boston 24-9 while winning four in a

row at Fenway Park from April 16-19, but the roles have been

squarely reversed this week.

The Red Sox (26-21) cruised to a 6-1 win Monday, then limited

Tampa Bay to one hit in Tuesday’s 2-0 victory. They’ve won seven of

eight overall despite navigating a difficult stretch of their

schedule against the Yankees and first-place teams Minnesota,

Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.

“We kept saying we’d get on a roll, we’d start playing better

baseball,” left-hander Jon Lester said. “This is a good team and I

don’t think people really believed it, but we are a good team and

we’re going to keep grinding it out.”

David Ortiz was among the Boston players off to a slow start,

but he had a two-run double Tuesday and is batting .400 with five

homers and 14 RBIs in his last 10 games.

Ortiz, however, is 3 for 22 (.136) with nine strikeouts against

Garza, who ranks second in the AL in ERA. The Red Sox aren’t

surprised – the right-hander is 6-1 with a 2.15 ERA in his last 11

starts against Boston, including two wins during the 2008 AL

championship series.

Garza (5-2, 2.37 ERA) has never lost to the Red Sox at home, and

his dominance continued in Boston on April 18, when he gave up four

hits in eight scoreless innings of a 7-1 win. He also was sharp

Friday at Houston, pitching an eight-inning complete game in Tampa

Bay’s 2-1 loss.

That same night, Boston’s John Lackey (4-3, 5.07) continued to

struggle, walking a season-high five and allowing four runs in five

innings of a 5-1 loss at Philadelphia.

“I didn’t pitch my best by any means,” said Lackey, who now

looks to avoid a third straight loss after allowing 15 runs and 12

walks in 18 innings over his last three starts.

The Rays clobbered him for eight runs in 3 1-3 innings of their

8-2 win at Boston on April 19. Lackey went 9-1 with a 2.36 ERA in

his first 11 career starts against the Rays, but he’s 0-2 with a

17.28 ERA the last two times he’s faced them.

His shaky outing Friday was the only time in Boston’s last seven

games that the club’s starter allowed more than two runs. The Red

Sox rotation, which had a 5.18 ERA through last Tuesday, has

allowed one run over 28 innings during the team’s four-game winning

streak.

The club’s bullpen, meanwhile, has allowed no hits and one walk

in six innings in this series.

Willy Aybar’s fourth-inning single off Lester was the Rays’ only

hit Tuesday, and one more loss would match Tampa Bay’s longest

losing streak of the season – a three-game skid from May 8-10.

“Obviously we’re not hitting the ball as well as we can right

now,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But I’m really not in any way

discouraged.”

The road team has won each of these teams’ first six meetings

this year, though Boston has not swept a series in St. Petersburg

since a four-game set from Sept. 9-12, 2002.

Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is expected to miss a second

straight game with a sore left side.