Red-hot Lackey toes rubber for Red Sox against Padres

John Lackey tries to win his third straight decision on Tuesday when the Boston Red Sox open a three-game series with the San Diego Padres at Fenway Park.

Lackey ran his unbeaten streak to five starts on Wednesday with a terrific effort against the Colorado Rockies, as he struck out 12 and allowed just two runs and eight hits in seven innings to even his record at 5-5, while lowering his ERA to 2.99.

"That's the Lackey of old," Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino said. "I remember playing against him and facing that guy, and he was dominant. That's what he showed (in his last start). Twelve strikeouts and going out there and doing what he is doing, going deep into the ballgames. His velocity is back, too. I think that's what makes it important."

Lackey, who has gone seven innings in each of his last three starts, lost his only other start to the Padres and was roughed up for five runs in just 3 1/3 frames of that one.

Boston, though, will be looking for another strong outing from the right- hander, as it enters this series sporting the American League's top record at 50-34 thanks in part to wins in five of its last six.

The Red Sox, of course, lost 93 games last season and finished dead last in the division.

"I think a lot of people doubted this team," said Victorino. "We've got that target on our back because we're in first place. But you know what? We're up for the challenge."

Although not to the extent of the Red Sox, San Diego has also surprised this season. After getting back to .500, though, the Padres lost the final three games of a four-game set to the lowly Miami Marlins over the weekend.

Still and all, the Padres are just 2 1/2 games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West.

The Padres pin their hopes Tuesday on left-handed rookie Robbie Erlin, who is 1-0 with a 3.60 ERA. Erlin did not get a decision on Wednesday against Philadelphia, as he gave up three runs (2 earned) and four hits in 6 1/3 frames.

At one point, Erlin retired 10 consecutive batters, including five by strikeout.

"He got some balls up early in the game, but settled down," Padres manager Bud Black said. "It was a matter of dialing in his fastball. That's a good, experienced lineup over there. He did a great job. I'm very proud of Robbie. He pitched with the fastball, both sides of the plate."

This is just the fifth series between these teams, but the first since San Diego took two of three in Beantown in 2011.