Jon Lester tries to stay undefeated on the season and pitch the Boston Red Sox to a sixth straight victory on Monday night in the opener of a three-game series with the Chicago White Sox.
Lester is a perfect 6-0 with a 2.72 earned run average through nine starts this season, one year after going 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 33 outings. The left-hander and Clay Buchholz (6-0, 1.78 ERA) are the first Red Sox teammates since at least 1915 to go undefeated with at least six wins each over the team's first 40 games of the season.
Lester threw a one-hit shutout versus Toronto on May 10 and followed up by hurling seven frames of two-run ball to beat the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday. The 29-year-old scattered eight hits without a walk and struck out five while getting staked to an 8-0 lead by the third inning.
He has allowed more than three runs just once this season and brings an even career mark versus the White Sox into this meeting, having gone 4-4 with a 5.20 ERA in nine games.
While Lester is still without a loss, Dylan Axelrod gets the call for the White Sox tonight off his first victory of the campaign.
Axelrod dropped his first three decisions before beating the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday with a shaky outing. He allowed three runs on nine hits and a walk over 5 1/3 innings, getting plenty of support in a 9-4 win as he turned in his second-shortest outing of the season.
The 27-year-old righty is 1-3 with a 4.27 ERA through eight starts this year and could find himself the odd-man out of the rotation when John Danks returns from injury.
Axelrod has faced the Red Sox twice before, one of those starts, and has a 2.00 ERA without a decision. He has struck out 10 over nine innings with two runs allowed.
He'll try to slow down a Boston club that is coming off a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins, taking Sunday's finale 5-1.
Dustin Pedroia hit a two-run homer and drove in three runs while pushing his hitting streak to 11 straight games, while John Lackey was outstanding over six innings of one-hit ball.
Lackey fanned five without a walk and yielded just one unearned run. He carried a perfect game into the fifth inning.
"I definitely wanted to go at least another inning," Lackey said. "I was definitely frustrated not to keep going, but the bullpen came in a did a great job, and winning the game is really all that matters."
The bullpen was able to hold on despite having to grind past a three-hour rain delay in the middle of the seventh inning.
Pedroia, meanwhile, is hitting .467 over his hitting streak as Boston sits a half game behind the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East.
The Red Sox should have a late-inning boost for this game as closer Andrew Bailey is expected to be activated from the disabled list. The righty had five saves and a 1.46 ERA in 13 games before getting sidelined on May 6 with a strained right biceps.
The White Sox try to avoid a third straight loss after splitting a four-game series with the L.A. Angels of Anaheim. They won the first two contests to push their winning streak to four straight before suffering consecutive setbacks.
Chicago was bested 6-2 in Sunday's finale as Jake Peavy was touched for four runs as he yielded four hits and five walks in six innings. He also struck out six in his first loss since April 9.
"It wasn't like Jake's velocity was down," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Peavy's high walk total. "It was just uncharacteristic of Jake today."
Alex Rios hit an RBI double and is batting .386 with four homers and 12 RBI over a 14-game hitting streak. He is 9-for-38 (.237) lifetime versus Lester.
The Red Sox have won eight of their past 10 versus the White Sox, going 5-1 in Chicago over that span.