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Saturday’s Red Sox-Rays matchups: Jon Lester vs. Jeff Niemann 09.17.11 at 3:53 am ET
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In the third game of a pivotal four-game series against the Rays, the Red Sox will send Jon Lester to the mound on Saturday at Fenway Park. Lester will try to make up for a poor start against the Rays in his last outing, while Tampa Bay’s Jeff Niemann will look to replicate the success he had against the Sox on Aug. 16, when he threw a complete game.

Lester (15-7, 3.07 ERA) lasted just four innings last Sunday against the Rays, allowing four runs in a loss. It was tied for his shortest outing of the season and gave the Rays the series sweep.

Besides that start, however, Lester has been excellent lately, recording a 2.63 ERA over his last 10 outings. The left-hander has been fanning batters at a good clip as well, striking out 59 in those games.

Lester has a 4.00 ERA in three starts against Tampa Bay this season, going 1-2 in those games. Johnny Damon is hitting .300 with two home runs and seven RBIs against Lester. The Rays lineup as a unit has .245 average against the Boston starter.

Niemann (10-7, 3.97 ERA) has had a solid year for Tampa Bay in the middle of the rotation. After struggling against Texas on Sept. 6, when he gave up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings, Niemann rebounded to pitch 7 2/3 innings while giving up only two runs against the Orioles in a win on Monday.

Niemann has been especially good against the Red Sox this season, allowing two runs in two starts (17 innings). That includes that complete game on Aug. 16, when Niemann allowed two runs and struck out 10 in the win over Boston. The current Red Sox lineup has been dismal against Niemann, hitting .130 off the Rays starter collectively. Conor Jackson is the only Boston player hitting above .200 off of Niemann.

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Read More: jeff niemann, Johnny Damon, Jon Lester,
Closing Time: Red Sox’ September swoon continues as Rays finish sweep 09.11.11 at 5:09 pm ET
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It was one thing for the rest of the Red Sox rotation to fall short. At this point, expectations were already measured for the likes of John Lackey, Tim Wakefield, Andrew Miller and Kyle Weiland.

But Jon Lester was another matter. He is the rock of the Red Sox rotation, and at a time when the rest of the team had been sagging, the left-hander had been willing to shoulder the load to give the Sox at least one day out of five when they would feature reliable starting pitching. He had gone five straight starts in which he’d allowed no more than one earned run, tied for the longest such run by a Sox left-hander since at least 1919.

Will the Red Sox -- who are up 3 1/2 games over the Rays in the wild card after Sunday's loss -- make the playoffs?

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But on Sunday, that changed. In the course of a 43-pitch first inning, the Rays pushed three runs across the plate. They would tack on one more against Lester, who lasted just four innings, before continuing to do damage against the Boston bullpen in an eventual 9-1 smackdown.

And so, the Red Sox lost their buoy. The Rays and James Shields concluded their three-game sweep over the Sox, and suddenly the Sox’ safe passage into the postseason seemed dramatically imperiled.

On Aug. 7, the Rays were 11 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East, and 10 games behind the Yankees in the wild card standings. Now, with their three-game sweep in Tampa Bay, the Rays have slashed their deficit to the Sox — now in the wild card race rather than the division standings — to 3½ games, punctuating a stretch in which the Rays have gone 22-10 and the Sox have stumbled to a 15-18 mark.

Tampa Bay outscored Boston by a combined 22-8 score, and the Sox enter Monday’s off-day having lost five straight, 7-of-8, and 9-of-11. They are in their most pronounced state of crisis since their 0-6 start in April.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE RED SOX

— The Rays worked over Lester as never before. For the first time in his career, on a day when he threw more than 100 pitches, the left-hander could not work his way into the fifth inning. Instead, he allowed four runs on eight hits in just four innings, striking out two and walking three. In the first inning alone, the three earned runs permitted by Lester matched his total yield from his previous 30 innings.

— Lester’s dreadful outing continued one of the worst turns of the rotation by the Red Sox in years. The team has now had five straight starts of no more than five innings, the longest such stretch by the team since Sept. 21-25, 2001, when Casey Fossum, Derek Lowe, Hideo Nomo, David Cone and Frank Castillo taxed the Sox bullpen.

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Read More: Dustin Pedroia, james shields, Jon Lester, marco scutaro
Red Sox-Rays Sunday matchups: Jon Lester vs. James Shields at 11:23 am ET
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The Red Sox have received exactly one quality start in their last seven games. That came on Sept. 6, when Jon Lester delivered seven dominating shutout innings in the Sox’ last win.

Now, a team that is spinning through a 1-6 stretch and that has last four straight is hearing footsteps or whatever sound it is that the motion of Rays makes. Tampa Bay has crept within 4½ games of the Sox in the wild card after taking two straight games to start the series, and the Sox will ask their ace to clot the wound.

Lester is 15-6 with a 2.93 ERA, 167 strikeouts and 63 walks in 173 innings this year. Against the Rays, he is 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA, 16 strikeouts and three walks in 14 innings. He is 10-4 with a 3.65 ERA against Tampa Bay in his career.

Among members of Tampa Bay’s lineup, Johnny Damon (.296, .863 OPS) has enjoyed the most success against Lester, followed by Evan Longoria (.256, .822). But on the whole, Lester has had his way with members of the Rays, who own a collective .222 average and .672 OPS against him. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: james shields, Jon Lester, tampa bay rays,
Closing Time: Red Sox bats unload while Jon Lester dominates in win over Blue Jays 09.06.11 at 10:18 pm ET
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After dropping four of their last five games — and coming off an excruciating extra-inning loss on Monday — the Red Sox certainly needed a game like this. They scored four runs in the first inning against Toronto rookie left-hander Luis Perez, added two more in the second, another two in third, three in the fourth and ‘€¦ you get the idea.

All told, the Red Sox piled up 14 runs on 20 hits including a season-high nine doubles and breezed through a 14-0 demolition of the Blue Jays in Toronto.

Just as importantly for a team whose pitching staff has been battered and abused over the last few days, Jon Lester pitched an absolute gem.

One start removed from a labored five-inning outing against the Yankees that saw him throw 114 pitches, Lester was brilliant allowing just three hits over seven innings while tying a season-high with 11 strikeouts. Staked to a big early lead, Lester never gave Toronto a chance to get back in the game and struck out five of six batters between the first and third innings.

Even with the offensive outburst, Lester’s start came at the right time as the bullpen has logged 32 2/3 innings over the last five days prior to last night and had to work seven innings in relief of Josh Beckett on Monday. Here’s what else went right on a night when the Sox scored a couple of touchdowns worth of runs.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Marco Scutaro has feasted on Toronto pitching this season and after Tuesday’s 4-for-5 he is now hitting just a tick below .500 (15-for-31) against his former team. This was Scutaro’s third four-hit game of the season and not surprisingly, two have come against Toronto (the other was against the Yankees). Scutaro also seems to have benefited from receiving some time off over the weekend. Since returning to the lineup he has seven hits in 12 at-bats and has reached base nine times in 14 plate appearances.

– As good as Adrian Gonzalez is, it still doesn’t hurt to get lucky every now and again and after scuffling through a stretch where he’s had five hits in his last 28 at-bats, Gonzalez could use a little luck. His harmless-looking pop fly to left in the first inning fell in for a double in front of Eric Thames, which helped open the door to the Sox’ four-run opening frame. Gonzalez’s night continued to get better. He smoked an RBI single back up the middle and poked a ball to the opposite field through the shift for another RBI hit in the fifth. Whenever Gonzalez uses the whole field, it’s a sign that the first baseman is getting locked in.

–  Lost in the blowout was some fine baserunning by Jacoby Ellsbury. In the first inning, Ellsbury hustled home from second on Gonzalez’ bloop double, arriving at home plate just ahead of the tag. In the next inning, Ellsbury took third on a hotshot smash to third and scored on another Gonzalez hit. Both plays showed off Ellsbury’s speed, but both were also the right reads and aggressive plays by the Sox catalyst.

After going 2-for-5, Darnell McDonald has finally raised his average over .200. Speaking of right field, Josh Reddick cracked his first home run since Aug. 12 in his only at-bat in the eighth. With J.D. Drew still out and Conor Jackson recovering from slamming into the outfield wall, the incumbent right fielders need to continue to make their case for playing time.

– The Blue Jays didn’t employ a shift against David Ortiz in his first at-bat and he banged a single through the right side that would have been swallowed up by the normal defense used against him. Toronto adjusted later in the game and Ortiz blasted two doubles off the center field wall. For good measure he added a bouncing single to left ‘€¦ that took perfect advantage of the shift.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Dustin Pedroia was the only member of the starting lineup to not get a hit and he took his second consecutive 0-for-5 against Toronto. Pedroia is now hitless in his last 13 at-bats.

Carl Crawford had an RBI double and Jarrod Saltalamacchia went deep for his 15th home run of the season, but they combined to go 0-for-7 with four strikeouts in their other plate appearances.

Read More: David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, marco scutaro
Tuesday’s Red Sox-Blue Jays matchups: Jon Lester vs. Luis Perez at 12:17 pm ET
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Losers of four out of their last five games, the Red Sox send their ace to the mound Tuesday night to stop the team’s slide further out of first place in the AL East. Jon Lester will look to get Boston a much-needed win vs. a Toronto team hitting just .183 against the left-hander in 2011, while newly minted starter Luis Perez will try to bounce back from a shaky previous start.

After the injury to Josh Beckett in Monday’s loss to Toronto, Lester becomes even more valuable to Boston’s reeling pitching staff. Erik Bedard‘s left knee remains a question mark and is forcing him to miss his next start, while John Lackey‘s struggles have been well-documented.

But Lester (14-6, 3.05 ERA) has been excellent, especially over his last month of work. In his last 10 starts, dating back to June 30, Lester has posted a 2.04 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings. While it was not pretty against the Yankees in his last start when he threw 114 pitches in just five innings, Lester still only allowed 0ne run.

Save for one poor start on May 10 (5 1/3 innings, 5 earned runs), Lester has been lights out against Toronto this season. In his previous two starts against the Blue Jays, Lester gave up just one run in 12 innings. The current Toronto lineup has a .225 combined batting average against Lester in his career. Jose Bautista has three home runs and six RBIs in 43 plate appearances against Lester.

In his first year in the big leagues, Perez (3-2, 3.77 ERA) has been solid for Toronto. Recently converted to a starter, Perez will make just his fourth big league start in Tuesday’s game. The 26-year-old lefty struggled in his last start against Baltimore, surrendering five runs in five innings to the lowly Orioles.

The current Red Sox lineup is hitting a combined .344 in 36 plate appearances against Perez, who has only appeared in relief situations against Boston. Kevin Youkilis has one home run and three RBIs against Perez.

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Read More: Jon Lester, Luis Perez,
Closing Time: Red Sox relievers roughed up in 4-2 loss to Yankees 09.01.11 at 11:33 pm ET
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Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard are indeed human.

The pair of Red Sox relievers had a combined 22 consecutive scoreless innings ‘€“ 12 1/3 for Aceves, 9 2/3 for Bard – entering Thursday night, but then the duo allowed three runs between them in the seventh inning en route to a 4-2 Yankees win at Fenway Park.

After striking out Nick Swisher to start the seventh, Aceves, the usually ultra-reliable longman in the Boston bullpen, walked Andruw Jones in an epic 14-pitch at-bat and then plunked rookie DH Jesus Montero before handing the ball over to Bard in a 2-1 game. The fireballing setup man then allowed a long double to right-center off the bat of Russell Martin that scored both inherited runners and gave New York a 3-2 lead. The Yankees extended that lead in the next at-bat when pinch-hitter Eric Chavez singled in Martin.

Aceves earned the loss, his first since May 31 and his first as a reliever since May 26, 2009 when he was with the Yankees. He moves to 9-2 on the year and 23-3 in 103 career games.

The bullpen implosion spoiled a strong, albeit short, pitching performance from Jon Lester (5 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 K). Lester’€™s outing was his second-shortest of the year ‘€“ a four-inning start on July 5 was cut short by a lat strain ‘€“ after he was lifted prior to the sixth, having thrown 113 pitches.

The blame for the loss doesn’€™t fall squarely on the shoulders of the Red Sox pitching though. The Boston offense couldn’€™t scrape together more than just a pair of runs against Yankees pitcher A.J. Burnett (5 1/3 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 4 K) who was coming off an August in which he had an ERA of 11.91 for the month.

Adrian Gonzalez had a chance to win or tie the game in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and two outs but instead struck out against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera to end the contest.

The game lasted four hours and 21 minutes, making it the longest nine-inning game of the season for the Red Sox. (The Yankees played one nine-inning contest last week in 4:31.)

With the win, the Yankees (82-53) won their first series against Red Sox this season(83-53) and move half a game behind their rivals in the AL East standings. Boston owns the season series 11-4 in 2011 with he two teams set to play three more times in New York from Sept. 23-25.

Here’€™s what went wrong (and right) in the Red Sox loss:

WHAT WENT WRONG

-Aceves hit two batters on the night, Montero and Mark Teixeira who later left the game with a bruised right knee because of the HBP. Aceves has now hit 11 batters this season, which puts him in a tie for third-most in the American League. Every AL pitcher with more than 10 plunks has at least 136 innings pitched. Aceves has only 90 1/3 frames under his belt in 2011. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: alfredo aceves, Daniel Bard, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia
Thursday’s Red Sox-Yankees matchups: Jon Lester vs. A.J. Burnett at 6:10 am ET
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The Red Sox and Yankees wrap up their penultimate series of the regular season Thursday night in Boston before the Sox welcome another challenge in hosting the Rangers at Fenway. Jon Lester will look to continue his three-game win streak while A.J. Burnett takes another crack at turning around his disappointing season.

Lester (14-6, 3.09 ERA) has been on a roll as of late. After taking two tough-luck losses to start the moth, he’s allowed just one run in each of his last three starts and recorded three straight wins. Since the end of May, 10 of Lester’s last 13 outings have been quality starts. On the other hand, he’s struggled a bit with his control. The left-hander has walked at least one hitter in each of his 25 starts, and he’s given out 16 free passes in five August outings.

Lester has had plenty of experience against the Yankees‘ 2011 lineup. In three starts, he’s 2-1 with a 5.00 ERA. The one loss came in Lester’s most recent matchup, a 3-2 defeat on Aug. 5. The Red Sox held a 2-0 lead heading into the sixth inning, but a three-run rally put New York on top for good, just the second time the Sox dropped a game to their division rivals this season.

The 27-year-old has experienced some issues at Fenway this season, going 5-4 with a 3.44 ERA, compared with a 9-2 record and 2.84 ERA on the road. Opponents are hitting .255 vs. Lester in Boston and just .201 away from home. The left-hander has allowed 14 of his 17 home runs against righties, and he has walked 29 more right-handed hitters than left-handed hitters.

The Yankees are hitting .243 with eight home runs against Lester in 295 combined plate appearances. Derek Jeter is the only Yankees hitter with a plus-.300 batting average against Lester. In fact, he’s the only Yankee hitter with an average above .250 vs. the left-hander. In his team-high 48 matchups with Lester, Jeter is hitting .333 with two RBIs, two walks and nine strikeouts. Mark Teixeira is hitting .235 with a home run, three RBIs and 14 strikeouts in 39 plate appearances, while Alex Rodriguez is at .188 with three home runs and nine strikeouts in 35 matchups with Lester.

Things have gotten progressively worse for Burnett (9-11, 5.31 ERA) in 2011, and its looking less and less likely the $82.5 million pitcher will even make the playoff rotation. New York fans may have been encouraged by Burnett’s win over Kansas City two weeks ago — his first since June — but the right-hander allowed three runs on 10 hits and did not pitch through the sixth inning. After that outing, Burnett gave up seven runs to the Twins in 1 1/2 innings and nine runs to the Orioles in five innings. In the month of August, Burnett is 1-2 with an ERA of 11.91 in five starts.

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Read More: a.j. burnett, Jon Lester, Red Sox, Yankees
Closing Time: Red Sox blow away A’s in rain-lengthened contest 08.27.11 at 6:08 pm ET
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Everyone appears to be in preparation mode for the oncoming Hurricane Irene, including the Red Sox.

Boston was scheduled to play a doubleheader Saturday against the A’€™s, but with Irene making its way up the eastern seaboard and the rain actually arriving by the fifth inning, the Red Sox decided it’€™d be best to score enough runs for both games, in case the second was canceled due to the inclement weather even though said contest is believed to begin shortly after Game 1’s conclusion.

As such, the Sox piled on the runs like East Coasters piled on plywood at their local hardware stores Saturday in a 9-3 rout of the A’€™s in Game 1 of the scheduled doubleheader. Every Red Sox starter factored in the offense somehow as each of the starting nine had either a hit, run scored or RBI.

Red Sox starting pitcher Jon Lester also did his job, allowing just two runs (one earned) on three hits and two walks over six innings while striking out four. The southpaw’s record improved to 14-6 on the season with the victory while his ERA dropped to 3.09, the lowest its been since early May.

Lester’s outing was cut short after just 87 pitches due to a 45-minute rain delay following the end of the sixth inning. A second rain delay after the seventh inning lasted two hours and 15 minutes. In total from first pitch to last pitch, the game lasted six hours and six minutes, although it goes in the books as lasting three hours and six minutes without the delays.

With the win, the Red Sox move 1 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees, whose game with the Orioles in Baltimore was postponed.

Here’€™s what else went right (and a few tidbits that went wrong) in the Sox win:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

-The Sox were able to chase Oakland starter Guillermo Moscoso after just four innings as the A’€™s righty had his worst outing as a starter this season. His nine hits allowed and seven earned runs allowed either tied or broke season-highs while he failed to notch a strikeout for just the second time as major-league starter.

-With Adrian Gonzalez‘€™s lead-off double in the third, the Red Sox first baseman broke a personal single-season record for hits at 183. (He ended with 184 after a single in the sixth.) His previous high was 182, which he achieved in 2007 while with the Padres. He continues to lead the majors in that category ‘€“ the Rangers’€™ Michael Young was the next closest entering Saturday with 177 ‘€“ after never finishing higher than seventh in the National League in hits during his five-year stay in San Diego. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: adrian gonzalez, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Jon Lester
Red Sox notes: Terry Francona suggests ‘I think the way the divisions are set up is not fair’ at 1:57 pm ET
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Maybe MLB was listening in when Terry Francona made some frank and honest suggestions about how baseball should consider re-structuring its playoff format starting in 2012.

“I hope they add about six,” Francona said in partially tongue-in-cheek fashion of adding MLB teams to the playoff pool.

Then he struck a more serious tone.

“I like the idea of having another wild card. I think it’s intriguing because it’s drawing more fans in and having more teams maybe think they have a legit chance, which is good.”

Then the blinds came down in the Fenway Park media room. A mesage from MLB perhaps?

“I thought that was me, I thought I was going down,” cracked Francona. “Wow, I thought I was going to say goodbye to you guys.”

But then Francona collected himself and continued to entertain the topic.

“I think the way the divisions are set up though is not fair,” Francona said. “I think you have to get more balance in what you’re doing. The question about sense of accomplishment, in ’04 we won 98 games. The only team that won more than us was the Yankees. We didn’t back in anywhere, and they were in our division. If they weren’t in our division, we would’ve probably won 102. If you’re going to start giving that much importance to a division winner and less to the wild card, I think there needs to be more balance. Look at our division right now, you’ve got four teams over .500.”

Would he be cool with 15 teams in each league and a possible interleague match-up in the final weekend of the season, perhaps in an NL park where an AL team would be without a DH?

“I’d be cooler if there was a designated hitter,” Francona said. “There’s decisions that need to be made by people that are smarter than me, hopefully. It’s never going to be perfect but I think there’s probably ways they can figure out to make it really good and a little more fair.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: andrew miller, Boston Red Sox, John Farrell, john lackey
Saturday’s Red Sox-Athletics matchups: Jon Lester vs. Guillermo Moscoso at 10:49 am ET
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The Red Sox kick off a doubleheader against the Athletics Saturday at noon. The team rescheduled both weekend games to Saturday in the hopes of avoiding Hurricane Irene.

Jon Lester starts for the Red Sox, looking to win his third decision in a row and pick up his 14th win. Lester has allowed just two earned runs over his last 13 innings, allowing just three hits in each start. His ERA has dropped by over half a run in his last 10 starts.

Guillermo Moscoso starts for the Athletics. Moscoso has given the Athletics three quality starts in a row, going 2-1 with four earned runs and a 4.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio over the last 20 innings.

Despite winning his last home start, Lester has still been a weaker pitcher at Fenway then on the road this season. He is just 4-4 at home, and his 3.63 ERA is nearly 0.8 runs higher than his away ERA. He is much better at preventing home runs at home, however.

Moscoso has struggled on the road this season, going 2-5 with a 3.81 ERA that is a run higher than his home ERA. His opposing slugging is consistent at home and on the road (.341 vs. 366), but teams are batting 25 points against Moscoso on the road. He also has a 1.33 strikeout-walk ratio on the road, as opposed to a 2.15 ratio at home.

Lester is a sub-.500 pitcher against Oakland in his career, going 2-3 with a 4.95 ERA and a .298 opposing batting average. He hasn’€™t faced the Athletics since 2009, when he gave up 10 earned runs in two starts.

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Read More: Guillermo Moscoso, Jon Lester,
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