They're at least distancing themselves from the sputtering Baltimore Orioles.Jon Lester looks to beat the Orioles again as the Red Sox seek their first sweep of the division rivals in over two years Thursday night at Fenway Park.Boston (79-55) owns the best record in the AL and leads the East by 2 1/2 games on second-place Tampa Bay. The Red Sox and Rays seem to be separating themselves from the rest of the division, with third-place Baltimore (70-61) 7 1/2 games out of first.The Orioles are also 4 1/2 behind Oakland for the AL's second wild-card spot.Boston can claim responsibility for increasing Baltimore's deficits in those races. The Red Sox opened this three-game series with a 13-2 thumping Monday before rallying for a 4-3 win the following day."This is a group that knows how to play with the game situation that's in front of them," manager John Farrell said. "They love to compete and love to work on any given day. I think this is the 30th time we've come from behind to win and it kind of shows the grit and character that's been with this team all year."Lester (12-7, 3.97 ERA) will try to help the Sox complete their first sweep of the Orioles since taking all four meetings from July 7-10, 2011. He's 15-2 with a 2.72 ERA in 23 career starts against them, his highest win total against any opponent.The left-hander beat them most recently July 28, striking out eight while yielding four hits in seven innings of a 5-0 win at Baltimore to re-establish his dominance. He had been 0-2 with a 4.80 ERA over the previous five matchups.Lester has won his last two outings in dominant fashion, allowing one run in 15 2/3 innings.He was superb Saturday, holding the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers to one run and three hits in 7 1/3 innings of a 4-2 win."I know what I'm capable of. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it," Lester said. "Since the (All-Star) break, I've felt good physically, and I feel like I'm in a good place throwing the ball right now."Orioles pitchers aren't likely to share that sentiment since they have a 4.77 ERA while dropping nine of 14.Chris Tillman (14-4, 3.66), though, is doing his part with a 2.57 ERA over his last four starts, but he's 0-1 in that span since he's been backed by nine total runs.The lineup let the right-hander down again Saturday, when he yielded one run and three hits with nine strikeouts in eight innings while not getting a decision in a 2-1 loss to the A's"In the playoff race, it's important. Every game is important," Tillman said. "A loss always stinks. They're never fun."Tillman hasn't needed much help over his last five starts against the Red Sox, going 3-0 with a 0.84 ERA. He's won his last two meetings over them by throwing 13 scoreless innings.Chris Davis is 10 for 36 with five homers -- including his major league-leading 47th in Wednesday's loss -- and 11 RBIs in his last nine games. The All-Star first baseman, though, is 2 for 19 with a homer against Lester.Boston's Dustin Pedroia is batting .400 over his last 14 games after getting four hits -- two doubles -- and four RBIs in this series. He's a .360 career hitter at home against the Orioles, but 2 for 9 versus Tillman this year.
Jon Lester has thrown his cutter on 20 percent of his pitches, the third-highest rate in the AL. Orioles batters have a well-hit ball in 10 percent of at-bats ending in a cutter, second worst in the league.
Since the All-Star break Shane Victorino has been handling fastballs extremely well. He's batting over .400 and has six home runs including the one he hit Thursday.