Blue Jays-Red Sox Preview
By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- A two-time All-Star and four-time 15-game winner, Jon Lester continues to look like anything but one of baseball's more dependable starters.
With Lester hoping to turn things around Sunday, the Boston Red Sox try to avoid getting swept at home by the Toronto Blue Jays for the first time in three seasons.
Lester, whose 65 victories from 2008-11 were tied for the fourth-most in the majors, hasn't been able to win games with any consistency this year. The left-hander has gone 5-7 with a 4.80 ERA over 19 starts, and frustration appears to be taking its toll.
"I don't think there's anything else I can work on. I've worked on everything," he said. "Just come game time, I've got to throw the ball better. Just plain and simple."
Lester has been especially bad in losing his last two starts, allowing a combined 11 runs while failing to make it through five innings in each. He gave up six runs, seven hits and three walks over four innings Tuesday in a 7-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox.
"It's frustrating showing up every day busting my (rear) and going out there busting my (rear) when I pitch and just not pitching well," Lester told the Red Sox's official website. "I'm letting my team down."
Lester is 11-5 with a 3.20 ERA over 20 career starts against the Blue Jays (47-47), allowing one run or none in 12 of those outings. Boston (48-47) surely could use a strong effort from Lester given its sudden inability to get much going at the plate.
After going 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position during Friday's series-opening 6-1 loss, the Red Sox went 1 for 6 in such situations Saturday in a 7-3 defeat, scoring all of their runs on Jarrod Saltalamacchia's second-inning homer.
Boston now sits just one-half game ahead of last-place Toronto in the AL East.
"Especially in our division, teams keep coming after you and coming after you," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "We need to try to separate ourselves. There's nothing wrong with getting a five-, six-run lead. ... We need to make sure we have better at-bats and try to pull away."
After sitting out Friday with a bruised right calf, Toronto's Brett Lawrie had three RBIs Saturday. Edwin Encarnacion and J.P. Arencibia each homered, with Encarnacion matching a career high with his 26th of the season.
"Our guys came through, J.P. and Eddie, in a big way," winning pitcher Carlos Villanueva said.
The Blue Jays now turn to Henderson Alvarez (5-7, 4.29 ERA). The 22-year-old right-hander allowed two runs, five hits and a career-worst four walks over six innings Monday at Yankee Stadium in Toronto's 6-3 loss.
Alvarez, whose 3.34 strikeouts per nine innings are the second-lowest rate in the majors among qualified pitchers, matched a career best by striking out six Yankees.
"I thought he had a very good changeup, he had some late action to his sinker, as we've seen ... so an outstanding job on Henderson's part," manager John Farrell said.
Alvarez has gone 1-1 with a 3.09 ERA over four career starts against Boston. He allowed five runs - three earned - and six hits over five innings June 25, earning a 9-6 road victory in his only career appearance at Fenway Park.
The Blue Jays haven't pulled off a sweep there since Sept. 28-30, 2009.
It's uncertain if Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles will be available after sitting out Saturday with a case of turf toe. Jacoby Ellsbury should be back on the field following a routine day off.
Updated July 22, 2012