Battle of the Sox

The Boston Red Sox are slumping and the AL East is a race again.

The struggling Red Sox hope to get back on track as Daisuke Matsuzaka takes the mound in the opener of a four-game series Thursday night against the visiting Chicago White Sox.

The Red Sox (56-38) headed into the All-Star break with three straight losses, and haven't played much better in the second half.

After splitting four games against Toronto, Boston lost two of three to last-place Kansas City, including a 6-5 defeat on Wednesday.

Oddsmakers have made Boston -200 money line favorites (MLB Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 9.5 total runs (Matchup). Public betting information for this game is not currently available (View MLB Bet Percentages).

The Red Sox's recent struggles have allowed the surging Yankees to slice five games off their lead in the East. New York, which has won five straight and 11 of 14, trails Boston by seven games, the closest it's been since after games of May 12.

"You know what?" Boston shortstop Julio Lugo asked. "They still have to catch us. We don't have to catch anybody."

Boston, which no longer owns the best record in the majors, is only 20-23 since May 30.

Another bad start by Julian Tavarez proved too much for the Red Sox to overcome Wednesday. Tavarez, who allowed six runs and nine hits in 4 2-3 innings, is 0-4 with a 7.71 ERA in his last five starts.

Manny Ramirez homered and Dustin Pedroia had three hits for Boston, which is batting .172 (5-for-29) with runners in scoring position over the last four games.

Although he hasn't been sharp in his last two starts, Matsuzaka (11-6, 3.94) is only one win behind the AL lead. The Japanese rookie right-hander has allowed 10 runs and 19 hits over 11 innings in his last two outings after surrendering only six runs in six starts before that.

Matsuzaka earned the win Saturday against Toronto despite yielding four runs and nine hits in six innings.

"I was hoping to see some improvement after that time, but I didn't," Matsuzaka said. "Whenever I'm pitching poorly, I try to make adjustments during the game. But no matter what I tried today, I couldn't adjust very well."

Matsuzaka has won three consecutive starts at Fenway Park, and is 6-2 with a 4.31 ERA in nine starts there. This will be his first appearance against Chicago.

One member of the White Sox that is familiar with Matsuzaka is countryman Tadahito Iguchi. Iguchi batted .385 (31-for-85) against the right-hander when the two played in the Japanese League.

"I have a good track record against Daisuke in Japan, but it's a whole different ballgame here," Iguchi said on the White Sox's official Web site. "It will be interesting to see."

Chicago (42-51) rebounded from three losses in four games in Baltimore by taking two of three at Cleveland.

Mark Buehrle pitched effectively for 6 1-3 innings, and Paul Konerko hit a two-run homer in a 5-1 victory Wednesday.

"We won one series," Konerko said. "We haven't made a significant dent in anything yet. Maybe it will be the start of the something good, but it's been a rough year."

Konerko is batting .349 (29-for-83) with eight homers and 22 RBIs in his last 22 games. His 13 home runs since June 1 are tied for the most in the AL during that span.

Javier Vazquez (6-5, 3.77) tries to win his fourth straight decision. Vazquez failed to win his fourth consecutive start Saturday at Baltimore, as he was reached for four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings before leaving without a decision. The right-hander had been 3-0 with a 1.68 ERA and two complete games in his previous four outings.

He is 1-4 with a 4.19 ERA in six career starts against the Red Sox, including 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA in four games at Fenway Park.

Vazquez has handled Boston sluggers Ramirez and David Ortiz, holding them to a combined .258 average (8-for-31) with three home runs.

by: Dave Michaels - thespread.com – Email Us

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