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Red Sox-Blue Jays series preview

05.10.13 at 9:31 am ET

The Red Sox welcome the Blue Jays to town this weekend for the first time in 2013, opening up a three-game set on Friday night. It’€™s been a little over a week since the two teams met up in Toronto, where the Red Sox took two of three from the last-place Jays.

Things haven’€™t been going well since the Red Sox left Toronto, however. Boston was swept in Texas before coming home and dropping three of four to the Twins to kick off the homestand. The slide has resulted in it becoming a little more crowded at the top of the division. The Red Sox now are sharing second place with the Orioles, percentage points behind the Yankees.

Toronto still sits alone at the bottom of the AL East with a 13-23 record, and the Jays’ week didn’€™t go much better than Boston’€™s. The Jays dropped the first two games of their series in Seattle and split a four-game set with the Rays, losing Thursday night’€™s game in the 10th inning when reliever Brad Lincoln walked in the winning run with the bases loaded.

If that weren’€™t enough, the Jays lost their most consistent starter of 2013 when J.A. Happ was hit in the head by a line drive off the bat of Desmond Jennings on Tuesday night. Though the scene at Tropicana Field was terrifying and looked to be devastating, Happ was released from the hospital the next day and expects to miss only a few weeks with a knee injury he suffered when he collapsed to the ground.

The Jays also were faced with the reality that Ricky Romero was not ready to return from the minor leagues. The former ace of the staff allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings over two starts and was unable to get more than one out in his start on Wednesday. The Toronto bullpen was responsible for more than 16 innings of work in only two days.

The Jays have been disappointing in 2013, to say the very least. But R.A. Dickey, who was matched up against David Price in a Cy Young duel on Thursday night, said that a lack of effort isn’t the problem. “We’€™re not maybe playing the smartest baseball,” Dickey said after the loss on Thursday, “but we’€™re playing hard as crud.”

A divisional rival coming to town always makes for an exciting series, but this three-game set should be especially interesting given the controversy surrounding the teams’€™ last meeting. After Clay Buchholz‘€™ brilliant two-hit, eight-strikeout performance against the Jays last Wednesday, Toronto radio analyst Dirk Hayhurst accused Buchholz of doctoring the baseball with a foreign substance. He and broadcaster Jack Morris pointed to Buchholz’€™ arm, at a substance that the pitcher maintains was rosin mixed with sweat. Buchholz seemed unfazed by the accusations, insisting, “I wasn’€™t doing anything wrong. I definitely don’€™t think if I’€™d given up nine runs in 2 1/3 innings it would have been an issue. That’€™s my guess. I don’€™t know. It is what it is.” Regardless of whether the claims had any basis, the story gained national attention, and there’€™s no doubt it will be something that is talked about as Buchholz takes the mound against the Jays on Saturday.

Pitching matchups

Friday: Jon Lester (4-0, 3.30) vs. Ramon Ortiz (0-0, 5.40)
Saturday: Clay Buchholz (6-0, 1.60) vs. Mark Buehrle (1-2, 7.02)
Sunday: Ryan Dempster (2-3, 2.93) vs. Brandon Morrow (1-2, 4.69)

Who’€™s hot: Blue Jays

‘€¢ One thing that the Blue Jays have been able to do well is hit the ball out of the park. They are tied for third in the majors with 45 home runs. The Toronto lineup has plenty of power threats, the two most notable being Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, who have 10 and seven homers, respectively. Catcher J.P. Arencibia is second on the team in longballs with nine.

‘€¢ Closer Casey Janssen has been nothing short of lights out this season, sporting a 0.75 ERA with nine saves. The reliever has allowed only three hits and one run in his 12 IP. Janssen is averaging a little more than a strikeout per inning and has yet to walk a batter in 2013. Another reliever, Brett Cecil, also has been quite impressive, giving up only three earned runs in 16 appearances and 18 IP.

‘€¢ Rajai Davis may not play every day, but he’€™s been one of the Jays’€™ hottest hitters when he gets in the lineup. Toronto’€™s fourth outfielder is batting .291/.333/.405. He has six hits and has scored four times in his last five games.

Who’€™s hot: Red Sox

‘€¢ The Red Sox have gotten exactly what they wanted out of Shane Victorino thus far in 2013. He’€™s gotten on base, stolen some bags and covered a lot of ground in right field. The right fielder comes into the weekend with a .299/.355/.392 line, with three stolen bases and 10 RBIs. Victorino has been consistent at the plate all year, but he had an especially productive series against Minnesota, going 7-for-18 and belting his first two home runs of the season in the four-game set.

‘€¢ After a rough month of April in which he hit .154 with a .517 OPS in 16 games, Stephen Drew is starting to get hot. The shortstop’€™s average and OBP have been steadily rising, and got an extra bump in the series against Minnesota, in which Drew went 8-for-16. Drew delivered a four-hit, three-RBI performance against the Twins on Monday, ending the four-hour, 45-minute affair with an RBI double in the 11th inning to give the Red Sox their only win of the series.

‘€¢ The Red Sox bullpen has been short-staffed as of late, with closers Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey on the disabled list. But relievers like Andrew Miller and Alex Wilson have been stepping up in the absence of key members of the ‘pen. Wilson, who was called up from Pawtucket in early April and made his major league debut on April 11, has pitched to the tune of a 1.54 ERA in 10 games this season, allowing only two runs while striking out nine. Miller’€™s recent stretch of good outing continued during this past series, as the reliever faced five Minnesota batters and struck out all of them.

Who’€™s not: Blue Jays

‘€¢ Brett Lawrie, who began the season on the disabled list with a rib cage injury, looked like he was starting to heat up, getting hits in seven straight games, in series against the Yankees and Red Sox. His bat has quieted down again, however, and the young third baseman has managed only two hits in the six games the Blue Jays have played since they took on the Sox a week ago. Lawrie’€™s average is down to .179 with a dismal .247 OBP and 25 strikeouts.

‘€¢ The Toronto pitching staff enters Friday with the second-worst ERA in the majors at 4.84, second to only the Astros. The staff has allowed the second most home runs (47) and ties the Astros for the most walks allowed (142). The starting rotation has been somewhat of a disaster for the Blue Jays, as no member of the rotation has an ERA under .450. If that weren’€™t enough, the Jays are struggling just to find pitchers to make starts. Josh Johnson and Happ are injured, Dickey is dealing with some bumps and bruises, and the recently recalled Romero only recorded one out before being lifted in his last start. The rotation is depleted and the bullpen is taxed, which obviously is bad news for the struggling Blue Jays.

Who’€™s not: Red Sox

‘€¢ Jacoby Ellsbury, one of the three Red Sox players to appear in every game this season so far, had a quiet series against the Twins, going 2-for-16 in four games. The center fielder has only driven in one run so far this month, and has only one extra-base hit (a double) in his last 13 games.

‘€¢ Pitching has been a strength for the Red Sox this year, but both the rotation and the bullpen had some trouble with a Minnesota lineup that, prior to the series, was in the bottom third of almost every offensive category. Sox pitchers gave up a total of 31 runs to the Twins over four games, 21 from Boston starters and 10 from the bullpen (though it should be noted that six of those runs allowed by the ‘pen were from Felix Doubront, who pitched 5 1/3 innings in relief of Allen Webster).

Read More: casey janssen, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Rajai Davis
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