Red Sox-Blue Jays Preview

Coming off another solid day at the plate, the Boston Red Sox are starting to pick up steam.

The slumping Toronto Blue Jays are having a hard time keeping teams off base.

Looking to stay hot, the visiting Red Sox try to sweep the Blue Jays for the first time in nearly three years Sunday.

After cruising to an 8-1 win in Friday’s series opener, Boston (12-13) held on for a 7-6 victory Saturday, its fifth in seven games at Rogers Centre. A.J. Pierzynski, batting .327 in his last 13 north of the border, hit a grand slam and Will Middlebrooks added a solo homer.

Middlebrooks is hitting .333 with five homers and five doubles in 13 career road games against the Blue Jays. Boston hasn’t swept Toronto since June 10-12, 2011.

The Blue Jays (11-13) have given up an average of 9.0 runs during a four-game losing streak, a stretch during which opponents are hitting .326 and have a .421 on-base percentage. Starter Brandon Morrow issued eight of the team’s nine walks Saturday before exiting with two outs in the third inning.

Toronto has issued 108 free passes, the second-most in the majors.

"We’ve been walking way too many guys all year," manager John Gibbons said. "That’s unlike us."

Toronto will be looking for a better showing from R.A. Dickey (1-3, 5.90 ERA), who took a shutout into the sixth inning Tuesday against Baltimore but didn’t factor in the decision after serving up a three-run homer in the 9-3 victory. The knuckleballer has held opponents to a combined .192 average during his first and second times through the lineup compared to a .433 mark the third time around.

"There’s a consistent pattern that’s emerging where I feel like I’m an All-Star for the first four or five innings of a ballgame, then I get to pitches 75 to 100 and it’s like I’m a different human being out there," Dickey said. "I’m trying to figure out what’s that’s about physically, but there are a lot of positives."

Dickey is looking to snap a three-start losing streak against Boston after compiling an 8.53 ERA and serving up four homers in two starts last year. Middlebrooks took him deep twice, going 3 for 6 in their matchups.

David Ortiz has also found success against Dickey, going 4 for 12 with three extra-base hits. Dustin Pedroia is just 2 for 12, though.

The Red Sox counter with Jon Lester (2-3, 2.67), who had won back-to-back starts before giving up eight runs – three earned – and 11 hits in 4 2-3 innings Tuesday in a 9-3 loss to the Yankees. The left-hander walked four, matching his total from his first four outings.

Despite the poor showing, Lester earned high praise from New York shortstop Derek Jeter.

"He’s tough. He knows how to pitch," Jeter told MLB’s official website afterward. "He mixes it up; he’s not fun to face."

Lester went 4-0 with a 2.55 ERA in six starts against the Blue Jays last year while holding them to a .183 average. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are a combined 15 for their last 81 (.185) against him, though 12 of those hits went for extra bases.

Lester has also made things difficult on Melky Cabrera (5 for his last 28) and Brett Lawrie (4 for 25).

Encarnacion, hitting .231 with just one homer thus far, should be back in the starting lineup after coming on as pinch hitter Saturday.

Bautista is batting .378 with six homers and 12 RBIs during an 11-game stretch versus Boston. He’s hit safely in his last seven overall, going 10 for 26 (.385).