Red Sox-Blue Jays series preview

September 20, 2013 - 6:33 am

It's official: the Red Sox are playoff-bound. The Sox clinched a ticket to the postseason on Thursday with a win over the Orioles. But the celebration awaits, as the Red Sox look to wrap up the division title Friday night in the opener of a three-game weekend series. The Sox will welcome the Blue Jays for the final home series of the regular season. They look to bounce back from a tough series against the Orioles, the only AL East team that owns a winning record against them. The Orioles took two of three from the Red Sox, handing them their first series loss since Aug. 16-18 against the Yankees. Despite that, the Sox still are playing some of their best baseball of the season this month, going 12-5 in September. The Red Sox own the best home record in the American League at 51-27, second only to the Braves. The differences between the 2012 team and this year's squad are obviously bountiful, but the turnaround at Fenway Park is huge. The Sox posted a .420 winning percentage in Boston last year and already are 17 wins better than the 2012 club at Fenway. The Orioles may be the one team in the AL East that has the Red Sox' number, going 9-6 against the Sox with three games left to play. But the Blue Jays have been relatively pesky for the Sox as well, taking seven of the 16 games in the season series thus far, including two of three the last time the two clubs met. The Blue Jays have had a disappointing season, to say the least. After a busy offseason in which they acquired the likes of Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey, the Jays will finish as the only AL East club not in the mix for a playoff spot, and the only team in the division that will come in under .500. Aside from Reyes, the Jays' acquisitions have fallen well short of expectations. However, the Blue Jays can play spoiler to the AL teams still in the race; they just took two of three from the Yankees, pushing them 3½ games back in the wild card chase, and have upcoming series with the Orioles and Rays. The Blue Jays spent just two days above last place since April 20 and have not been out of the cellar since June 23. They surged briefly in June, pulling above .500 for a couple of games, hitting their season-high mark of two games better than .500, but slipped back to a losing record on June 28 and haven't recovered since. They've been eliminated from any chance at postseason play and sealed their fate as a last-place team this season, now sitting 22 games behind the Red Sox. But just because they're in last place doesn't mean they can't do some damage. The Jays actually have one of the best offenses in the majors according to OPS, ranking fifth in the majors and fourth in the American League. They've got plenty of firepower, hitting 93 home runs, good for third amongst all teams. They've even scored the fourth-most runs in the majors. It's their pitching that has been very, very subpar. They come in with the third-worst staff ERA amongst major league teams, better than just the Astros and the Twins. Here are the pitching matchups for the final three Fenway games of the regular season. Friday: Jon Lester (14-8, 3.75) vs. Esmil Rogers (5-7, 4.47) Saturday: Felix Doubront (10-6, 4.15) vs. Mark Buehrle (11-9, 4.17) Sunday: Clay Buchholz (11-0, 1.51) vs. R.A. Dickey (13-12, 4.21) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ Craig Breslow again came through as one of the most reliable relievers on the team Tuesday when he came into a no-out situation with runners on second and third in a tie game, set to face the heart of a tough Orioles lineup. Breslow made quick work of the three, four and five batters, using just six pitches to escape the jam. The lefty, who has shown the ability to get outs against both righties and lefties, has allowed just one run and 10 hits in his last 22 2/3 innings, good for a tiny 0.40 ERA. Though Breslow doesn't have overwhelming stuff (he's averaging just under five strikeouts per nine innings this season), he's proven to be one of the go-to options in late innings. '€¢ Shane Victorino has been a little banged up recently, but that hasn't kept him from swinging a hot bat. The outfielder is picking up the slack since Jacoby Ellsbury was sidelined with a fracture in his foot, batting .316/.381/.553 since Ellsbury was indefinitely shut down. But injuries may be the one thing to stand in the way of Victorino's production. He missed Thursday's series finale with the Orioles after being removed in extra innings in Wednesday night's contest. Victorino is considered day-to-day with a jammed right thumb, but should be able to get back in the lineup when needed.  '€¢ Dustin Pedroia continues to thrive in the leadoff spot, extending his hitting streak to nine games now. Taking over the top spot in the lineup actually has ignited Pedroia's bat -- before moving up, the second baseman had been going through a little slump, going 6-for-28. But since Sept. 5, Pedroia is batting .305/.349/.441 and has boosted his line on the season back to .299/.371/.416 through 153 games. Pedroia, like pretty much everyone else on the squad at this point, is a little banged up, but that didn't stop him from finishing the Orioles series with two doubles and a home run.  WHO'S HOT: BLUE JAYS '€¢ Reigning Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey certainly hasn't been able to duplicate his incredible success from 2012, but he's looking to finish the disappointing season on a strong note. Seven of Dickey's last 10 starts have been quality starts, and he's posted a 2.88 ERA since July 31, allowing no more than four runs in any single outing since then. Although he's on a good streak right now, Dickey's season has not been what the Blue Jays had hoped for. The knuckleballer comes into the series with a 4.21 ERA and 1.266 WHIP through 32 starts, while his strikeout numbers have fallen from 2012 and his walk numbers have gone up. The one silver lining to the season is the fact that the 38-year-old still gave the Jays a lot of innings, with 209 1/3 under his belt so far. '€¢ With some of the Blue Jays regulars seeing their playing time cut down as the season draws to a close, guys like Moises Sierra are seeing a lot more playing time. Sierra has basically been Toronto's everyday right fielder and has made the most of his opportunity. Sierra is hitting .433/.485/.733 with seven doubles and a triple over his last nine games, driving in four and scoring four times. Overall, in 26 games since being recalled on Aug. 21, Sierra has put up an impressive .312/.372/.545 line, replicating some of the power the 24-year-old showed in Triple-A this season. '€¢ Casey Janssen continues to have a very solid year as the Blue Jays closer. Since allowing four runs in less than an inning of work vs. the Athletics back in mid-August and taking the loss, Janssen has been lights out, allowing just one earned run in his last 12 2/3 innings while notching 11 saves. Janssen has easily set a career record with 32 saves this season after recording 22 last year and has a steady 2.66 ERA and 1.007 WHIP coming into the series. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Daniel Nava had a very quiet series with the Orioles after his four-hit showing in the finale with the Yankees. The outfielder went 0-for-11 with a walk and four strikeouts. The bad series shouldn't take away from what Nava has done this month, however. Before the previous series, Nava was hitting .386 with five doubles and a home run in 13 games in September. Nava's average has fallen back below .300, where it's hovered around all season, and he comes into Friday with a .298/.384/.441 line in 127 games this season. '€¢ The Sox have had a little bit of trouble capitalizing on scoring opportunities lately. In all three games with the Orioles, the Red Sox struck first, jumping out to early leads. But they were unable to push another run across after the fourth inning on Tuesday, going 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and stranding seven. It was more of the same on Wednesday, when the offense was stymied after scoring in the sixth inning, held scoreless through the 12th inning, going 1-for-9 with RISP and leaving nine men on base. Thursday wasn't quite as frustrating, but the Red Sox failed to score again after an offensive outburst in the second inning. One of the biggest problems in the first two series were the double plays -- the Red Sox grounded into seven of them, including four on Wednesday. '€¢ David Ross has not done much with the bat this season, and he had a frustrating day in his last start, going 0-for-3 and grounding into a double play, stranding three men on base. Ross is hitting .200/.290/.368 on the season with only seven RBIs. But his real value is behind the dish, not at it. Red Sox pitchers have posted a 3.01 ERA when Ross is catching, while the ERA jumps to 3.80 with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate and even higher to 4.71 when it's Ryan Lavarnway. Ross has also been very solid defensively, allowing just one passed ball and gunning down 34 percent of runners. WHO'S NOT: BLUE JAYS '€¢ Things have not been going well for reliever Steve Delabar lately. He's received the loss in all three of his most recent appearances, allowing a total of five earned runs, seven hits and four walks in 2 1/3 innings. In his most recent outing, Delabar blew a save and took the loss, giving up two runs on three hits and a walk in just one-third of an inning. Overall this season, Delabar has posted a 3.40 ERA in 55 2/3 innings while striking out an average of just over 13 batters per nine innings. '€¢ Kevin Pillar, a rookie outfielder who impressed in Double-A and Triple-A prior to being called up in mid-August, hasn't seen his success in the minors translate to the big leagues. Pillar, who has been getting a good chunk of playing time in the outfield, is hitting just .185 over his last 14 games with only one extra-base hit in that span. Pillar's real value for the Jays has come on defense, playing a solid left field. Overall, he's hitting just .176/.233/.250 with two doubles and a home run in 27 games. '€¢ Catcher J.P. Arencibia has had a really ugly year at the plate, and it keeps getting worse. With an 0-for-4 showing on Thursday, Arencibia is hitless in his last 18 plate appearances, unable to reach base since Sept. 10. He has only two hits in his last 16 games. The awful slump has caused Arencibia's average to fall below the Mendoza line to .197 on the season. When Arencibia does get a hit, it seems like it's always going to extra bases, though. Despite having only 89 hits in 452 at-bats, Arencibia has reached the 20-home run plateau for the second time in his career while knocking 17 doubles.