Red Sox-Blue Jays series preview

May 20, 2014 - 9:23 am

The Red Sox will look to get back on track and improve their sub-.500 record at Fenway Park as the Blue Jays come to town for a three-game set.

For the first time since John Farrell took over at the helm of the Red Sox, the club has dropped four games in a row after suffering a sweep at home at the hands of the league-leading Tigers. With the skid, the Red Sox have fallen to 20-23 overall and 10-14 at home, and they occupy fourth place in the American League East.

"Something's got to happen," David Ortiz said, via "Otherwise, we're going to be out of [contention] by July if something doesn't happen, and we're playing like this."

Generating offense was a problem for the Red Sox throughout the series, as the club was outscored 13-3. They now have allowed 12 more runs this season than they have scored.

As if getting swept at home wasn't enough, the Red Sox also lost a key member of their lineup, with Will Middlebrooks fracturing his finger on a scalding line drive Friday night. Brock Holt was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket to split time with Jonathan Herrera at third for the time being, but the Red Sox are not ruling out outside help when it comes to the left side of the infield.

The big hit with runners on base continues to elude the Red Sox, who rank third in the American League in on-base percentage but are hitting just .243 as a club with runners on.

The Blue Jays have hovered around .500 for much of the season, coming in at 23-22. Like the majority of the clubs in the AL East, the Blue Jays have a losing record at home, going 10-11 in Toronto (the Yankees are the one exception, with an even 11-11 record at home). After going 12-14 in April, the Blue Jays have won 11 of their 18 games this month and sit in third place in the division. They'€™re coming off a series win against the Rangers in Texas, taking two of three games.

Offensive production hasn't been an issue for the Blue Jays, a team that ranks third in the AL in runs scored and in OPS, while leading the league in slugging percentage. But the pitching -- both the rotation and the bullpen -- has been mediocre, thanks to both injuries and ineffective performances. They rank in the bottom third of the AL with a 4.38 staff ERA.

The Blue Jays roster is rarely the same for more than a couple of days at a time. At one point earlier this month, the Blue Jays made a total of 13 roster moves in just four days, and several players with options have become all too familiar with the route from Buffalo to Toronto and back, shuffling between the major league club and the team'€™s Triple-A affiliate in upstate New York.

The Red Sox took two of three earlier this season at the Rogers Centre.

Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game series.

Tuesday: Felix Doubront (2-3, 4.54) vs. J.A. Happ (2-1, 3.57) Wednesday: Clay Buchholz (2-3, 6.17) vs. Drew Hutchison (2-3, 3.64) Thursday: Jon Lester (4-5, 2.67) vs. Mark Buehrle (7-1, 2.11)


-- Though the offense as a whole has been struggling mightily over the last week, Ortiz seems to be the one notable exception. The 38-year-old is batting .452/.531/.881 over his last 11 contests, driving in eight runs and clubbing eight extra-base hits (five home runs and three doubles). But other teams are becoming wary of Ortiz'€™s hot bat and relative lack of protection in the lineup, with the slugger being intentionally walked in five of his last 49 plate appearances.

-- Though the sample size is small, Xander Bogaerts is certainly showing signs of breaking out of his slump. The shortstop had two hits in each of the last two games against the Tigers, and has gone 7-for-18 with a home run (his second of the season), a double and a walk over his last 20 plate appearances. The 21-year-old is batting .269/.369/.379 on the year. -- Despite suffering the tough-luck loss in the series opener against Detroit, Jon Lester has been giving the Red Sox a chance to win just about every time he'€™s been on the mound. Lester has allowed just four runs on nine hits in his last 20 innings (three starts), striking out 30 batters over that span and posting a 1.80 ERA. Lester'€™s FIP (fielding independent pitching, which measures a pitcher'€™s effectiveness when it comes to preventing home runs, walks and hit batters and getting strikeouts) stands at 2.10, which ranks as the best in the major leagues. WHO'S HOT: BLUE JAYS -- Shortstop Jose Reyes hit just .178 through his first 18 games after missing 16 contests with a hamstring strain. But Reyes has enjoyed a power surge recently, clubbing six doubles, a triple and a home run over his last 10 games, batting .316 and drawing five walks in contrast to just four strikeouts. Despite the recent production, Reyes has been disappointing for the Jays, batting just .223/.307/.420 in 28 games, swiping five bases and smacking three home runs, 11 doubles and a triple. -- Brett Lawrie has been swinging a hot bat, going 21-for-58 (a .362 average) with eight extra-base hits over his last 15 games. The 24-year-old missed some time earlier this month (though he avoided a DL stint) with some hamstring tightness, and has gone 7-for-26 since his return to the lineup. With third baseman Juan Francisco producing steadily when in the lineup, Lawrie has been forced to relocate at times to accommodate both of their bats, trying his hand at second base recently, one of the few positional holes for the Blue Jays. -- Jose Bautista continues to be one of the most consistent hitters in Toronto'€™s lineup, compiling a .313/.382/.479 line over his last 13 games, blasting two home runs and two doubles. Incredibly, Bautista has drawn more walks (38, which leads the majors) than strikeouts (33), but that trend has gone in the opposite direction recently, with the outfielder striking out 12 times in his last 13 games as opposed to drawing just five walks. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX

-- A.J. Pierzynski is a noted streaky hitter. He'€™s gone through stretches of impressive production at times this season, but he'€™s struggling through a down period currently. The catcher is just 2-for-his-last-25 with one extra-base hit and four RBIs, while he'€™s been unable to reach base via a walk since May 7. Pierzynski at one point raised his batting average to .291, but his season line has fallen to .244/.281/.353 through 35 games.

-- Jackie Bradley Jr.'€™s bat has yet to come around, and though the center fielder is providing value on defense, his offensive production has left a lot to be desired. The 24-year-old is batting just .205/.303/.299, and his slump has intensified recently. Bradley is hitting .143 with a .420 OPS through 55 plate appearances this month, and he'€™s only managed to draw five walks in contrast to his 18 strikeouts.

-- With Middlebrooks out of action for the foreseeable future, the Red Sox will need some more production out of their utility infielders. Herrera, who figures to see some time at the hot corner (at least until an upgrade has been made, if the Red Sox choose to go that route) hasn'€™t contributed much with the bat at all this season, and has just one hit in his last 18 plate appearances. He'€™s batting just .184 with a .480 OPS. Holt was very impressive in his first major league stint this season, but he's gone 0-for-7 since being recalled.


-- Melky Cabrera has cooled off a bit, going 6-for-33 over the course of his last nine games with just one extra-base hit in that span. Despite the mini-slump, Cabrera still owns the highest batting average among Jays regulars, hitting .310 with a .350 OBP and posting a .481 slugging mark through 44 games.

-- The Blue Jays bullpen has often been in a state of flux this season, with the personnel changing often thanks to some injuries and poor performances. Esmil Rogers is one of the few mainstays in the pen, and he'€™s been hot and cold all season. Rogers (who is probably best known by Red Sox fans as the pitcher who uncorked the fastball that broke Middlebrooks' wrist in 2012) has not been used in many high-leverage situations, often closing out lopsided contests or pitching in middle relief. He has just one hold in 15 appearances. Rogers has posted a 5.75 ERA in 20 1/3 innings, a number that has been whittled down from 7.16 thanks to two scoreless multi-inning appearances in his last two outings. -- The Jays will have to find another starting pitcher to fill out the rotation after Dustin McGowan was shifted back to the bullpen, a role in which he found success last season. McGowan was not very effective as a starter, posting a 5.08 ERA in eight starts and lasting five innings or less in five of those outings. A well-timed off day has allowed the Blue Jays to delay their decision on McGowan'€™s replacement.