Blue Jays-Red Sox Preview

While the Boston Red Sox are officially headed back to the

postseason, they aren’t satisfied just yet.

The Red Sox can clinch the AL East in Friday night’s series

opener against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays.

Stephen Drew hit a two-run homer and John Lackey threw a

two-hitter in Thursday’s 3-1 win over Baltimore, helping Boston

(93-61) lock up its first playoff berth since 2009.

“We’ve still got some other goals ahead of us,” Lackey said.

“Hopefully, here in the next night or two we can get a party

going.”

Coming off a last-place finish in 2012, the Red Sox’s magic

number to clinch the division was later cut to one with Tampa Bay’s

loss to Texas. Boston can also clinch if the Rays lose to Baltimore

on Friday.

“The next step is a more important one than this,” manager John

Farrell said. “Winning the East, that’s been the stated goal since

day one of spring training. That’s getting closer and I think that

will probably be a little bit more the realization of where we’ve

come from and where we are at that moment.”

Boston has to be feeling good about giving the ball to Jon

Lester (14-8, 3.75 ERA), who is 4-1 with a 1.81 ERA in his last six

outings and 6-2 since the All-Star break.

“It’s not uncommon for power pitchers to really hit their stride

in the second half of the season,” Farrell told MLB’s official

website. “He’s an example of that. His delivery becomes that much

more efficient, and he repeats it more consistently. With that

rhythm comes power, and that’s what we’ve all seen in Jon over the

course of the time here.”

The left-hander allowed one run and three hits in eight innings

to beat the New York Yankees 5-1 on Saturday, his eighth

consecutive quality start.

“He’s been doing great,” teammate Mike Napoli said. “You can see

he’s confident out there. He’s just getting the ball and

throwing.”

Lester has gone 3-0 with a 2.80 ERA in five starts versus

Toronto this season, improving to 14-7 with a 3.64 ERA in his

career against the Blue Jays. Adam Lind (3 for 29 with 12

strikeouts), Brett Lawrie (3 for 22), Jose Reyes (1 for 12) and

J.P. Arencibia (8 for 41 with 16 strikeouts) have all struggled in

their matchups.

Toronto (70-82) took two of three from the Yankees this week,

winning 6-2 on Thursday. Anthony Gose went 3 for 4 with a home run

and Lind added a three-run shot for his third homer in six

games.

The Blue Jays now turn to Esmil Rogers (5-7, 4.47), who is 2-0

with a 2.32 ERA in his last five starts. After throwing 14

scoreless innings in winning back-to-back outings, the right-hander

allowed three runs in six innings and didn’t receive a decision in

Saturday’s 4-3 victory over Baltimore.

“I just think about giving the opportunity to win the game, and

try to help the team,” said Rogers, who matched a career high with

seven strikeouts. “The only way you can get out people is when you

make good pitches.”

Rogers has posted a 0.75 ERA and struck out 12 in as many

innings in two starts versus the Red Sox this year, both Blue Jays

wins. Dustin Pedroia is 5 for 10 with two doubles against him.

Boston outfielder Shane Victorino missed Thursday’s win with a

jammed right thumb, leaving his status for Friday unclear.

Victorino is hitting .359 with seven homers, 21 RBIs and 25 runs in

his last 26 games.