Monday, September 14, 2009

Red Sox vs. Angels

TIME: 07:10 P.M. EST
VENUE: Fenway Park

The Boston Red Sox are in good position for a third straight postseason appearance despite running into some unforeseen problems with their starting rotation.

They're hoping to get their most disappointing starter back in a groove before the playoffs begin.

Daisuke Matsuzaka will make his first major league appearance in nearly three months Tuesday when the Red Sox open a three-game series with John Lackey's Los Angeles Angels, their likely AL division series opponent if they hold onto the wild card.

The Red Sox (84-58) paid more than $100 million for Matsuzaka before the 2007 season, and it looked the investment was paying off last year, when Matsuzaka went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA.

After he pitched for Japan in the World Baseball Classic, however, his start to 2009 was a disaster. Matsuzaka (1-5, 8.23 ERA) didn't complete six innings in any of his eight starts before being shut down with shoulder problems in June.

The right-hander has spent the last few months regaining his strength, but he's recovered in time to rejoin the team for the stretch run.

"I know that it took me some time to get here, but I also feel that I was able to use that time to get prepared really well, and I just hope that I can apply all those things that I was preparing for in my start," Matsuzaka told the Red Sox's official Web site.

His first outing won't be an easy one against the AL West-leading Angels, whose 789 runs trail only the New York Yankees. Los Angeles (86-57) had won eight of 10 before opening a seven-game road trip with a 5-3 loss Monday in a makeup game against New York.

With the Red Sox holding a 4 1/2-game lead on Texas in the wild card race and the Angels six games ahead of the Rangers, the teams are on track to meet in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight season and fourth time in six years.

Boston has gone 9-1 in the previous three division series, going on to win the World Series in 2004 and 2007. But the Red Sox are still eager to continue their five-game winning streak Tuesday, especially considering they've lost 12 of 14 to the Angels in the regular season.

"It's an important series for us heading into the playoffs," Boston third baseman Mike Lowell said. "We don't want to sit there and say, 'Well, we measure up pretty well against them, but we lost two out of three.' We want to win games."

The first one will be tough if Lackey (10-7, 3.53) continues his recent form. The right-hander is 2-0 with a 0.35 ERA in his last three starts, throwing at least eight innings each time.

He pitched a five-hitter for his eighth career shutout in a 3-0 win over Seattle on Thursday.

"The best way to stay on a roll is not to analyze this one too much and get ready for the next one," Lackey said. "It's not going to matter much in Boston when I show up (Tuesday). You've just got to keep going."

Lackey was 0-1 in last year's AL division series despite turning in two quality starts against the Red Sox, but he won his most recent regular season visit to Fenway Park, taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning of a 6-2 win July 29, 2008.

Matsuzaka will be trying to continue a strong run of starts for Boston. The Red Sox swept Tampa Bay over the weekend, allowing a total of two runs in three games. They have won eight straight at Fenway, where they are 50-21 and have the best home record in the majors.

Los Angeles is the last AL team to make its first visit to Boston this season. The Angels went 5-1 at Fenway last year.

Copyright 2009 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.


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