With 54 wins and a .614 winning percentage, Boston is in the driver's seat to secure its sixth postseason berth in seven seasons. But one of its sluggers still sees room for improvement.
"I still don't think we've played our best yet," left fielder Jason Bay said.
Steady offense and arguably the deepest pitching staff in baseball are the driving forces behind a Boston squad that returns to action on Friday night in Toronto, where Clay Buchholz will make his 2009 debut against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
Friday's contest kicks off a six-game road trip for the Red Sox, who will play 15 of their first 22 bouts after the All-Star break away from Fenway Park. Boston is 23-20 on the road this season.
"We're looking good," designated hitter David Ortiz said. "Where we finished the first half is a really good place to be, but we have to come back strong."
Though the Red Sox haven't reached a level of play to Bay's liking, he is optimistic that the team is headed in the right direction.
"We're starting to hit our stride," Bay said. "Our pitching's been outstanding. We'll enjoy the break a little bit, then come back in the second half feeling pretty good about ourselves."Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Clay Buchholz (2-9, 6.75 ERA in 2008)
Buchholz will make his 2009 debut after dominating at the Minor League level this season. The 24-year-old right-hander went 7-2 with a 2.36 ERA in 16 starts for Triple-A Pawtucket, but a logjam among Red Sox starting pitchers prevented the touted prospect from cracking the Boston rotation. Buchholz is 0-2 with a 4.22 ERA in three career appearances (two starts) against Toronto. TOR: LHP Ricky Romero (7-3, 3.00 ERA)
An early favorite for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, Romero has been Toronto's best starter of late, going 5-1 with a tidy 2.38 ERA over his past eight starts. Over that stretch, the left-hander has limited opponents to a .221 average while compiling 48 strikeouts against 20 walks over 56 2/3 innings. On Saturday in Baltimore, Romero came away with a no-decision against the Orioles, allowing three runs on seven hits over eight frames. Tidbits
In Sunday's finale vs. the Royals, Bay became the first Red Sox player to reach base five times without recording a hit since Ted Williams, who walked five times, on May 23, 1951, vs. the St. Louis Browns. ... Rehabbing shortstop Jed Lowrie (left wrist) went 1-for-3 with a double and a run scored on Sunday for Triple-A Pawtucket. ... With a stolen base in Sunday's 6-0 victory over the Royals, center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury became the second player in Red Sox history to record 40 steals in multiple seasons, joining Hall of Famer Tris Speaker (1912-14). ... Boston enters the second half of the season in first place in the AL East for the fifth consecutive year, dating back to 2005. Tickets
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Saturday: Red Sox (Brad Penny, 6-3, 4.71) at Blue Jays (Brian Tallet, 5-6, 4.95), 1:07 p.m. ET
Sunday: Red Sox (Jon Lester, 8-6, 3.87) at Blue Jays (Roy Halladay, 10-3, 2.85), 1:07 p.m. ET
Monday: Red Sox (John Smoltz, 1-2, 5.40) at Rangers (Kevin Millwood, 8-7, 3.46), 8:05 p.m. ET
John Barone is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.