Twins-Red Sox Preview
By KATE HEDLIN
(AP) -- The Boston Red Sox recognize their playoff hopes are fading, but they don't seem to have a way to stop it.
The Red Sox will try to avoid being swept at home in a four-game series by the Minnesota Twins for the first time in 21 years in Sunday's finale.
Boston came into this set having won four of six games, but it hasn't built on the momentum as Minnesota has rallied to consecutive victories.
Joe Mauer hit a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth off Alfredo Aceves for a 6-4 win Saturday after Pedro Ciriaco broke an eighth-inning tie with a pinch-hit home run for the Red Sox.
The loss came after Boston (53-55) failed to protect a 5-1 lead Friday, losing 6-5 in 10 innings. The Red Sox were shut out in the series opener.
Boston, which has lost four straight overall, has dropped 10 games back of the New York Yankees in the AL East and is five games behind in the wild-card race
"They're all devastating now," Nick Punto said. "You get this late in the season and you look at the standings and we're not really sitting in a great position. Wild card, there's a lot of teams. We can't afford to lose games like that."
While the Twins (47-60) have the second-worst record in the AL, they are showing why they can't be taken lightly down the stretch with Mauer and Justin Morneau both hitting well. Minnesota has won seven of nine.
"We're playing good baseball," Mauer said. "We're just fighting. It's been three tough games here in Boston, and we're never out of it. That's the mentality that we have, even since the start of the season, but it's definitely nice to pull it out late."
The Twins haven't recorded a four-game sweep in Boston since July 18-21, 1991.
Carl Crawford, who hit a run-scoring double Saturday after going 3 for 5 Friday, will try to help Boston bounce back Sunday, although he is 1 for 14 against Twins scheduled starter Nick Blackburn (4-6, 7.43 ERA).
Boston turns to Franklin Morales (2-2, 3.32), who starts in place of Josh Beckett after he left Tuesday's start with back spasms.
Morales made five starts earlier this year, going 2-1 with a 3.42 ERA.
The left-hander doesn't have a decision in four career relief appearances against the Twins, including two this season. He's allowed one hit in 1 1-3 innings this year.
He'll try to cool off the Twins. Besides Mauer, Boston's also had trouble with Morneau, who is 8 for 12 with three doubles and three RBIs in the series.
Blackburn was sharp his last time out, giving up two runs and five hits in eight innings of a 4-3 loss to Chicago last Tuesday.
The right-hander is 2-2 with a 4.17 ERA in his career against the Red Sox. He allowed five runs and eight hits in three innings of an 11-2 defeat April 24.
Kelly Shoppach, who went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts Saturday, is 9 for 18 with three homers and two doubles lifetime against Blackburn.
Updated August 5, 2012