Battle of East Coast titans on tap

Battle of East Coast titans on tap for Sox

After steamrolling over American League opponents for the better part of the last six weeks, the Red Sox, who own the best record in Major League Baseball, will now try their luck against a National League foe.

The Braves come to Boston for a three-game series, beginning Friday night at Fenway. After taking three out of four from the Tigers, the Red Sox will try to stay hot against the Braves.

"They've been so good for so long," said manager Terry Francona. "They've got a lot of good people making good decisions. They're a different team, but they can still play."

It will be a pitching matchup of relative unknowns in the opener. The Sox will promote right-hander Devern Hansack prior to the game so he can take the rotation spot of Josh Beckett, who will go on the disabled list with an avulsion on his right middle finger.

The last time Hansack started a game at Fenway Park was Oct. 1, 2006, and it was memorable. Pitching in the regular-season finale against the Orioles, the righty out of Nicaragua pitched five innings of no-hit ball in a game that ended at that point because of rain.

The Braves counter with a rookie of their own, right-hander Anthony Lerew.

Sox catcher Jason Varitek, who went to Georgia Tech and spends his offseasons in the Atlanta area, knows full well the kind of tradition the Braves have built.

"They're another very good team that we're getting ready to play," Varitek said. "I've got to get through my homework and get that done to really get ready for them."

But the Braves aren't the strangers to the Red Sox that a lot of NL teams are. With the exception of 2003, the teams have squared off in each year of Interleague Play.

"We have played them quite a bit over the years," said Varitek. "It's almost like playing some of the [AL] Central teams. We play them usually six times a year. It gives us something to be familiar with."

The Braves will bring their usual cast of solid players to Boston, led by Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, Jeff Francoeur and Edgar Renteria, who had one roller-coaster season (2005) with the Red Sox.

The Red Sox were dominant in Interleague Play last year, reeling off 16 victories in 18 games.

Pitching matchup
ATL: RHP Anthony Lerew (0-1, 6.52 ERA)
Lerew threw 38 of his 74 pitches for strikes and allowed five earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings against the Pirates on Sunday afternoon. The easily excitable right-hander will have to handle his emotions while pitching in front of a packed house at Fenway Park. His first Major League start came last Tuesday, when he limited the Padres to two runs over six innings. If he's able to consistently get ahead in the count, his sinker can be a valuable weapon.

BOS: RHP Devern Hansack (0-0, 13.50 ERA)
The right-hander impressed the Red Sox in two late-season starts last year, going 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA. He's pitched just once for the Red Sox this season, and it came in relief. Hansack is 1-4 with a 3.89 ERA in four starts at Pawtucket.

Player to watch
Varitek is hitting .385 (15-for-39) in his last 11 games.

Interleague by the numbers:
All-time club record in Interleague Play: 94-80
All-time record vs. Atlanta: 16-23

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WRKO-680 AM, Spanish Baseball Network

Up next
• Saturday: Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 5-2, 4.17) vs. Braves (John Smoltz, 5-2, 3.19), 1:05 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Red Sox (TBA) vs. Braves (Tim Hudson, 5-1, 1.77), 2:05 p.m. ET
• Monday: Red Sox (Tim Wakefield, 4-4, 2.41) at Yankees (Mike Mussina, 2-2, 5.64), 7:05 p.m. ET

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.