The Boston Red Sox are percentage points out of first place in the AL East.
It wouldn't take much to drop the San Francisco Giants back into the NL West cellar.
Will Middlebrooks looks to continue his hot hitting and help the Red Sox regain sole possession of the division lead in the finale of this three-game series with the Giants on Wednesday.
Boston (74-54) is in a virtual tie with Tampa Bay atop the division, but is percentage points behind having played four more games.
The Red Sox can regain first place with a win Wednesday afternoon, but it may just be temporary since the Rays are facing Baltimore hours later.
Boston has failed to build a cushion in the East, losing eight of 12. Brayan Villarreal walked Marco Scutaro on four pitches with the bases loaded in the ninth inning Tuesday in his team debut as the Red Sox lost 3-2."We shouldn't be in that situation," catcher David Ross said. "We had a guy that we know who is notorious for taking pitches, we have to throw strike one."
Middlebrooks had two of his team's seven hits in the defeat and is batting .452 (14 for 31) in 10 games since being recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket.
That's a welcome change after he batted .192 over his first 53 games, earning him a return to the minors in June.
Middlebrooks is a .373 hitter with four homers and 14 RBIs in 18 career interleague games.
Felix Doubront (8-6, 3.95 ERA) will try to help Boston avoid a third straight road series loss as he tries to bounce back from a dismal outing.
The left-hander was roughed up for a season-worst seven runs and eight hits - two homers - in four innings of a 10-3 loss to the Yankees on Friday. That came six days after he gave up three runs with four walks in four-plus innings of a 5-3 win at Kansas City.
"I feel like I was a little bit off with my mechanics, the release point of the ball," Doubront told the team's official website Friday. "My past outing was the same. I have to keep working on that."
Doubront, facing the Giants for the first time, has won his last three interleague starts behind a 2.70 ERA.
San Francisco has won four of six to move one-half game ahead of last-place San Diego in the NL West.
Zito went 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA over his last four starts before being moved to the bullpen following a 7-3 loss at Philadelphia on July 30.
He struggled in his first two relief outings, giving up five runs in two innings. However, the left-hander rebounded by yielding one run in three innings over his next two appearances, and that's good enough for manager Bruce Bochy .
"He went to the 'pen and I think he earned this," Bochy told the team's official website. "He's a guy who's done a lot for us, if you look at last year. I now it's been an up-and-down year for him, but his stuff, coming out of the 'pen, I think has gotten better."
Zito will face the Red Sox for the first time since a loss in Boston on June 15, 2007.
|Boston Red Sox|
|August 17, 2013||Mike Napoli||Day-to-Day||Sore left foot|
|August 08, 2013||Brandon Snyder||15-Day DL||Ulnar neuritis, right elbow|
|August 05, 2013||Matt Thornton||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|August 04, 2013||Matt Thornton||Day-to-Day||Right oblique soreness|
|July 19, 2013||Shane Victorino||Day-to-Day||Left game - left hamstring tightness|
|July 13, 2013||Andrew Bailey||60-Day DL||Right shoulder strain|
|San Francisco Giants|
|August 20, 2013||Pablo Sandoval||Day-to-Day||Sore back|
|August 17, 2013||Chad Gaudin||15-Day DL||Carpal tunnel syndrome|
|August 15, 2013||Sandy Rosario||Day-to-Day||Bruised sternum|
|July 31, 2013||Pablo Sandoval||Day-to-Day||Bruised right heel|
|July 30, 2013||Buster Posey||Day-to-Day||Ill|
|July 29, 2013||Tony Abreu||15-Day DL||Left knee bursitis|
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Will Middlebrooks made his major league debut at second base on a day he continued to produce with his bat. That might be a message.
Middlebrooks and Stephen Drew each hit a home run, Jonny Gomes and Jarrod Saltalamacchia drove in two runs apiece and the Boston Red Sox beat the San Francisco Giants 12-1 on Wednesday.
"It was a good offensive day," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "We had good production up and down. Will has been swinging the bat well since he's come back to us."
Middlebrooks has reached base in all 11 games since his recall from Triple-A Pawtucket, hitting safely in 10 of them. Farrell said he could be used at second in case anything ever happened to Dustin Pedroia .
In his first appearance at second at any level, Middlebrooks even turned a nifty double play on his first chance, taking the throw from Drew and making the pivot at second.
"That came out of nowhere," Middlebrooks said. "We haven't talked about it. I haven't worked out there. It was a lot of fun, though."
Felix Doubront (9-6) rebounded from a tough outing to pitch eight strong innings for the Red Sox, who have won three of five and entered play in a virtual first-place tie with Tampa Bay in the AL East. Doubront gave up one run on five hits. He walked one and struck out three.
"I spent the last four days working on throwing the ball down in the zone," Doubront said. "I was able to do that and go with my stuff. I was working fast to get the hitters to swing at my pitch."
Joaquin Arias homered among his two hits for the Giants, who have lost three of four.
Barry Zito (4-9) lasted 3 2-3 innings in his first start since July 30. He allowed six runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out three.
"We didn't play well at all," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We're having a hard time with the bats here. It's got to get better with the pitching side and the hitting side."
Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino each had three hits for Boston, with Victorino driving in a run. Ellsbury scored twice and got his league-leading 46th stolen base. Pedroia added two hits and drove in a run.
"Any time you get hits out of the top of the lineup good things can happen," Victorino said. "We just have to keep it going."
Doubront, who allowed seven runs in four innings in his last start, has allowed three runs or fewer in 17 of his last 18 outings. After giving up Arias' homer in the second, Doubront retired 14 of the next 15 hitters.
"Felix was awesome," Middlebrooks said. "I don't think he missed his spot all day. Even the home run was a good pitch."
Middlebrooks hit a two-run home run with two outs in the second and Doubront on deck.
"I was surprised," Middlebrooks said. "He went fastball away and I thought he would stay away. He left a slider up in the zone and I put a good swing on it."
Since his recall, Middlebrooks is hitting .441 (15 for 34) with a pair of home runs, seven RBIs and seven walks. He's improved his average to .228 from a season-low .192 when he was sent down.
"I feel comfortable," said Middlebrooks, who also hit safely in his final eight games with the PawSox. "I haven't really changed my approach, I'm just more consistent with it."
The Giants have allowed 10 runs or more in four interleague games, their most in any season.
"I was excited to get the ball," Zito said. "Some strange stuff happened out there today. Baseball is a strange game sometimes. The nature of the game is so unpredictable. That's why we all love it and why we all hate it."
Zito, the 2002 Cy Young winner, is 0-25 in 29 games in which he has allowed six or more runs in a San Francisco uniform. He never allowed more than six runs in a game with the Oakland Athletics .
NOTES: Doubront has given up one run in 15 innings against the NL West. ... Red Sox INF David Ortiz left the game with lower back tightness after striking out in the fifth. ... RHP John Lackey (8-10, 3.22 ERA) will start for Boston when it opens a series against the Dodgers in Los Angeles on Friday night. ... Zito owns a career mark of 5-7, with a 5.52 ERA, in 15 games against the Red Sox. ... RHP Matt Cain (8-8, 4.35) will start for the Giants on Thursday night against Pittsburgh. ... Ellsbury has hit safely in all 18 of Boston's interleague games and is batting .442 (34 for 77) against NL clubs.