The Boston Red Sox enter the final series of the season in prime position to claim home-field advantage in the AL playoffs.
Though their own playoff hopes have already evaporated, the Baltimore Orioles can still capture their second straight season series against the Red Sox for the first time in 21 years.
Boston visits Baltimore on Friday night with Clay Buchholz looking to bounce back from his lone loss.
The Red Sox pushed themselves two games ahead of Oakland for the league's best record and trimmed their magic number for home-field advantage to two following a 15-5 victory at Colorado on Wednesday. The Athletics end their season with three games in Seattle.
Will Middlebrooks provided two homers for a career-high seven RBIs Wednesday, including his third career grand slam. He's just 8 for 37 (.216) in 11 games versus Baltimore this year.
"It's good to see him in the stretch he's been in of late, to not only drive the ball out of the ballpark but stay on the ball and drive it out to right field," manager John Farrell said as one of Middlebrooks' homers went to the opposite field. "That's when we feel like he's got good plate coverage and he's at his best."
With a sweep, Boston (96-63) would match the fourth-best record in franchise history (1978).
The Red Sox would seem to have a good chance to add to their win total considering they're 13-2 in games Buchholz (11-1, 1.60 ERA) starts, but one of those defeats came against Toronto on Saturday. The right-hander yielded three runs in six innings of a 4-2 setback after allowing one run over 11 innings in winning his first two starts since a strained neck kept him out for more than three months.
But Buchholz seems to be finding his form, as his pitch counts have increased steadily from 74 to 91 to 106 since returning.
"I feel good. Movement on all the pitches is there," he said. "It's just the command and location and where to start it, which is sometimes hard to get better. The velocity is there and the body feels good."
Buchholz is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA over his last three starts against Baltimore, including seven scoreless innings in a 3-1 victory on April 8. He's also 5-0 with a 0.95 ERA in five road starts overall this year.
The Orioles (83-76) are one win away from clinching the season series as they lead it 9-7 after taking two of three at Fenway last week. They haven't done so in two straight years since 1991-92.
Home run leader Chris Davis didn't play Thursday due to an illness but Baltimore took a 3-2 win over Toronto, the club's second in a row after a six-game skid. Davis has six homers and 14 RBIs in 16 meetings with Boston this year despite batting .226 with 27 strikeouts. He's 3 for 15 off Buchholz with one homer and six strikeouts.
Starting for the Orioles will be Scott Feldman (5-5, 3.57), who is 3-2 with a 2.08 ERA over his last eight starts. In Boston on Sept. 17, the right-hander gave up two runs and two hits in five innings but walked a career-high six and didn't get a decision in a 3-2 win.
Mike Napoli has been out of Boston's lineup for four straight games due to plantar fasciitis but Farrell told the team's official website he'll likely play first base Friday. He is 11 for 27 (.407) off Feldman with two home runs.
Jacoby Ellsbury was 1 for 2 with a walk and two runs against Colorado on Wednesday after missing 16 contests with a fractured right foot. He's hitting .441 with five stolen bases during an eight-game hitting streak versus Baltimore.
The Associated Press News Service
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