Twins-Red Sox Preview

Fenway Park has long been known as one of baseball’s most hitter-friendly venues, but Boston Red Sox pitchers are making it look very big lately.

Their outstanding work has them in position to accomplish something the franchise hasn’t since Babe Ruth was on the mound.

John Lackey will try to pitch the Red Sox to some history and a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday.

The first 2 1/2 months of the season have been very disappointing for the defending World Series champions, but Boston (33-38) has shown signs lately of turning things around.

Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over Minnesota was its ninth in 11 home games and improved the team’s overall record to 13-9 since a 10-game losing streak in May.

That impressive run at home has been fueled by some stellar pitching, with the Red Sox allowing three runs or fewer in all 11 games while posting a 1.32 ERA. The 11-game streak matches the third-longest in franchise history set in 1986, and is one shy of the team record set in 1914 and equaled in 1915, the year Ruth went 18-8 with a 2.44 ERA.

Lackey (8-4, 3.34 ERA) triggered the 11-game streak with 6 1-3 scoreless innings against Atlanta on May 28 and will try to win a season-high third straight start.

Since getting hit hard in a loss to Detroit on May 17, the veteran right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in five starts. He was solid again Friday, limiting Cleveland to three runs – all in the second inning – over 6 2-3 innings in a 10-3 victory.

Lackey is 4-1 with a 2.91 ERA in his past six starts at Fenway while allowing only two homers in 40 1-3 innings.

He’s also found success against the Twins recently, going 4-1 with a 1.66 ERA in his last six meetings.

Joe Mauer, who picked up his first RBI in 19 games Tuesday, is 11 for 30 (.367) with two homers off Lackey.

Minnesota (32-37) has been held to seven hits in the first two games of this series and has lost four straight to match a season high.

”We need to knock in some runs,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. ”We need more of them.”

Dustin Pedroia drove in Boston’s first run Tuesday with a double and has reached safely in all 30 of his starts against the Twins dating to the start of 2010. It’s the longest such streak among active players against them, and the longest by any Red Sox player versus Minnesota.

Boston’s offense, though, hasn’t been very potent lately, totaling seven runs and batting .228 in the last four games.

Kyle Gibson (6-5, 3.55) will try to keep those bats in check and continue an outstanding run. The right-hander is unscored upon in his last two starts spanning 14 innings and hasn’t allowed a run in three of his last four outings. He pitched seven innings for the second consecutive start in a 2-0 win at Detroit on Friday.

Gibson made his best pitch of the game with the bases loaded in the fifth, getting Miguel Cabrera to bounce into an inning-ending double play to preserve a 1-0 lead.

”It was a big pitch,” Gibson acknowledged. ”If you want to win a game and you want have a good outing, you’ve got to make that pitch against one of the best hitters in the game.”

That was a rare strong road performance for Gibson, who is 2-4 with a 5.91 ERA in seven away starts compared to 4-1 with a 1.54 ERA in six at home.