Sox gear up for possible playoff preview

Sox gear up for possible playoff foe

BOSTON -- For the third consecutive year, the Red Sox appear poised to reach the postseason. And for the third consecutive year, they appear to be on a collision course with the Angels.

The teams have met in the American League Division Series each of the past two seasons, with Boston prevailing both times, and would be a playoff pair once again this October had the regular season ended Sunday.

Until then, they'll have to settle for a mid-September showdown at Fenway Park that kicks off on Tuesday night, when Daisuke Matsuzaka makes his long-awaited return from the disabled list opposite John Lackey.

Boston is just 2-4 against Los Angeles in 2009, losing two out of three in a pair of three-game sets at Angel Stadium earlier this season.

"I think it will be a good challenge," manager Terry Francona said. "We've played some good baseball since the last time we played them [in mid-May]."

With just six regular-season games left against playoff-caliber clubs, the Red Sox have few remaining opportunities to see how they stack up against elite competition. In that sense, playing the AL West leading-Angels this week could prove to be beneficial for the AL Wild Card leaders.

"It's an important series for us heading into the playoffs," 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. We'll head into Tuesday and focus on that one, then we'll worry about Wednesday."

The Red Sox dropped eight of nine regular-season meetings with the Angels last year, then ousted the Halos from the playoffs with a 3-1 series victory in the ALDS. If they are to duplicate that feat again this fall, the Sox must first secure their sixth postseason berth in seven years.

"It's another big series, but we still need to take care of business and get into the playoffs," left fielder Jason Bay said. "The Angels are a very good team that we ultimately need to beat, now or later. It'll be a good barometer, but at the same time you look at last year and the way they played us [in the regular season], and I don't think it's the end-all of everything. It will give us a good yardstick of where we're at."

Pitching matchup
BOS: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-5, 8.23 ERA)
Matsuzaka makes his first Major League appearance since June 19, nearly three months after landing on the disabled list for the second time this season with right shoulder woes. After leading Japan to its second consecutive World Baseball Classic title this spring, the 29-year-old has had a forgettable 2009 campaign thus far, evidenced by a 1-5 record and 8.23 ERA in eight starts. Dice-K was tagged for six runs on seven hits over five innings in one career regular-season outing against the Angels.

LAA: RHP John Lackey (10-7, 3.53 ERA)
Lackey was in prime form Thursday in blanking the Mariners at Angel Stadium, yielding five hits and striking out seven for his eighth career shutout. The 30-year-old right-hander has allowed one earned run in his past 26 innings of work, and is the first Angels starter to log at least eight frames in three consecutive starts since Kelvim Escobar in 2006. In 13 career appearances against the Red Sox, Lackey is 3-6 with a 5.54 ERA, including a 2-4 mark and 6.34 ERA in eight outings at Fenway Park.

Tidbits
Catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez has hit safely in each of his past 15 contests, batting .358 (19-for-53) over that span. ... Second baseman Dustin Pedroia is hitting .409 (9-for-22) over the course of a six-game hitting streak. ... With 32 home runs this season, Bay is three shy of matching his career high of 35, set with the Pirates in 2006.

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

On television
• NESN

On radio
• WEEI 850, SBN 1150 (Español)

Up next
• Wednesday: Red Sox (Paul Byrd, 1-1, 6.08) vs. Angels (Joe Saunders, 13-7, 4.81), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Red Sox (Josh Beckett, 15-6, 3.82) vs. Angels (Ervin Santana, 7-8, 5.52), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Friday: Red Sox (TBD) at Orioles (Jeremy Guthrie, 10-14, 5.06), 7:05 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.