John Lackey is looking to win three straight starts for the first time in nearly three years heading into an outing against the team he has beaten the most.
His Boston Red Sox, however, will have to face emerging Oakland Athletics starter Sonny Gray for the first time.Runs could be difficult to come by against these right-handers Sunday as the Red Sox look to complete a three-game home sweep.Lackey (4-2, 3.83 ERA) is 19-6 with a 2.90 ERA in 34 career starts against Oakland. He can become the first pitcher to win at least 20 games against the Athletics (18-12) since Kenny Rogers went 21-8 in his career from 1989-2008.The Boston starter turned in a second straight victorious eight-inning effort Tuesday as he allowed two runs in a 7-4 win over Tampa Bay.Lackey is 3-2 with a 3.69 ERA in five starts against Oakland with Boston. He seeks his first three-start win streak since winning four in a row July 9-27, 2011.It figures to be a difficult test as he goes up against Gray (4-1, 1.76), who was simply outstanding his last time out. Gray struck out six in his first complete game as he outdueled Yu Darvish with a three-hitter Monday in a 4-0 victory at Texas."What he did was incredible," teammate Josh Reddick told the Athletics' official website. "That makes it even more incredible, to do it against a team that's a top competitor in all of baseball."Now Gray will try to follow that up against the reigning World Series champions, who are seeking their first three-game win streak this season and first sweep of that length against Oakland since June 3-5, 2011.Boston (15-16) has used grand slams to help capture each of the first two games. Dustin Pedroia hit the second of his career in Friday's 7-1 victory and Jonny Gomes had the fifth of his in Saturday's 6-3 win.Oakland managed one hit through eight innings while striking out 15 times against Jon Lester on Saturday before scoring three times in the ninth."It's easy to just cash it in after you've struck out 15 times in eight innings and hadn't had too many good swings and you're frustrated," manager Bob Melvin said, "and then to get those kind of at-bats in the ninth inning, it's good."The A's are batting .145 with 24 strikeouts in this series after coming to Boston on the heels of a three-game road sweep of the Rangers in which they scored 25 runs and batted .315.Catcher John Jaso and former Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie are the only Oakland batters with two hits in this series.Jaso is 6 for 15 against Lackey while Daric Barton, a .146 hitter, could receive a start since he's 9 for 27. Coco Crisp is 1 for 8 in this series and 5 for 33 off Lackey.Shane Victorino will be back in Boston's lineup after he was rested Saturday. Victorino is 9 for 31 in seven games since returning from a right hamstring injury and played both contests in Thursday's doubleheader with Tampa Bay as well as starting Friday.
Sonny Gray has thrown 34 percent curveballs this season, the third-highest rate among qualified pitchers. The Boston Red Sox have hit .176 in at-bats to end in righty curves, tied for fourth-worst in baseball this season.