Red Sox-Royals Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- Just over a week ago, the Boston Red Sox returned to .500 and appeared to be putting their struggles in the past.
Poor starting pitching, however, has them looking for just their second win this month.
The Red Sox hope Jon Lester can continue his dominance of the Kansas City Royals and help them avoid losing their first series at Kauffman Stadium in almost six years Wednesday night.
Boston (12-17) closed April with seven wins in eight games to end the month 11-11, but has followed that surge by losing six of seven due in large part to an 8.23 ERA from the rotation. The team's only win in that stretch was Monday's 11-5 victory over Kansas City (10-19) to open this three-game series.
Daniel Bard pitched into the eighth inning in Tuesday's 6-4 loss, but had two balks and a wild pitch that led to a three-run second for the Royals. He left with two runners on in the eighth and a 4-3 lead before Matt Albers gave up a three-run homer to Billy Butler.
"It was really weird," Bard said. "I can't remember the last time I balked in my life, ever. I don't think I've done it in the big leagues."
Boston is in danger of losing a series at Kauffman Stadium for the first time since dropping three in a row there from Aug. 8-10, 2006.
Giving the ball to Lester (1-2, 4.62 ERA) would seem to be a good way to avoid that fate.
The left-hander is 5-1 with a 1.30 ERA in seven career starts against the Royals, limiting them to one or no runs in six of those games. That includes his last appearance at Kauffman Stadium on Aug. 21, when he yielded one run and three hits in six innings of a 6-1 victory.
Lester wasn't nearly as sharp Friday, allowing three runs and five hits with three walks in six innings of a 6-4 loss in 13 to Baltimore.
Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks continued his impressive start to his major league career with a double in his only plate appearance Tuesday before leaving with tightness in his left hamstring. He's 9 for 22 with four doubles, three homers and nine RBIs in his first five games. He joins Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter as the only players since at least 1920 to record an extra-base hit in each of their first five games.
Also swinging a hot bat is Dustin Pedroia, who is hitting .333 with five doubles, one homer and six RBIs during a nine-game hitting streak. The second baseman is batting .439 with 16 RBIs in his last 18 games at Kansas City, and is 3 for 4 with a homer off Bruce Chen, Wednesday's scheduled starter.
David Ortiz is 6 for 13 in his last three games overall, and 11 for 26 with two home runs and 10 RBIs in the past six against the Royals.
Tuesday's win was only the third in 16 home games for Kansas City - all coming on this seven-game homestand.
Butler has a .351 average with three homers and 11 RBIs in 16 career home meetings with the Red Sox.
Bruce Chen (0-4, 4.98) takes the mound after losing four starts in a row with a 6.56 ERA. The left-hander has given up 12 runs in 9 1-3 innings over his last two starts.
He's 0-4 with an 8.22 ERA in nine games - five starts - since last beating Boston with Baltimore on July 9, 2005.
Updated May 9, 2012