Once owners of the best record in the majors, the slumping Boston Red Sox now find themselves out of the top spot in the AL East for the first time this season.
The Red Sox hope to get back on track and avoid their seventh loss in eight games Friday night when they open a three-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park.Boston (21-14) has one win since a major league-best 20-8 start, falling percentage points behind the New York Yankees in the division and into a tie with Baltimore for second.The Red Sox made a pair of errors and allowed four unearned runs in a 5-3 loss Thursday as they dropped the last three of a four-game series to Minnesota. They've committed 11 errors over the last seven games after having that many in their first 28 contests."I don't think anybody is worried about the last seven games," said Dustin Pedroia, who is batting .472 over his last nine home games. "It is the big leagues and everybody is good."Now Boston turns to scheduled starter Jon Lester (4-0, 3.30 ERA) as it tries to avoid a season-high fourth consecutive loss.The left-hander hasn't been terribly sharp lately, allowing 12 runs and four homers over his last three starts after yielding five runs and no homers in his first four.He was outstanding in a 13-0 win at Toronto on April 7, striking out six over seven innings of five-hit ball. He wasn't nearly as effective in the last meeting, leaving without a decision after giving up a season-high six runs over six innings in a 9-7 loss April 30.Lester is 5-2 with a 4.64 ERA in nine home starts against the Blue Jays, and his last matchup was one he'd rather forget. He allowed 11 runs and four homers -- both career highs -- over four-plus innings in a 15-7 loss July 22.He'll be up against an improving Toronto (13-23) offense that has batted .311 with nine homers and totaled 32 runs in the last five games after hitting .182 with one homer and three runs in the previous four contests -- all losses.Slugger Jose Bautista has faced Lester more than any other pitcher, going 11 for 47 (.234) with a home run and 11 strikeouts. He is batting .333 with four homers and nine RBIs in his last seven games at Fenway.The Blue Jays had won a season-best three in a row before dropping the last two of a four-game series at Tampa Bay.Brad Lincoln walked Luke Scott with the bases loaded and two outs in the 10th inning as the Rays escaped with a 5-4 win Thursday."We're not maybe playing the smartest baseball, but we're playing hard," Thursday's starter R.A. Dickey said. "We've got to tighten up some things probably. But we'll figure it out."With Brandon Morrow pushed back to Sunday due to a stiff neck, Toronto will send veteran right-hander Ramon Ortiz (0-0, 5.40) to the mound for his first start since July, 10, 2011.A former 16-game winner for the Anaheim Angels in 2003, Ortiz spent last season with the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate before signing a minor league deal with the Blue Jays in December.Ortiz is 1-2 with a 5.58 ERA in five career starts at Fenway, though his most recent came in 2003.The Red Sox have won two of three from the Blue Jays in each of the first two series this season, but Toronto has won six straight in Boston.