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.