They meet again. And this time they’re both knee deep in a June swoon.
The Red Sox and Braves open a three-game series tonight in Atlanta, meeting for the ninth season in the 10 years since interleague play began.
This is the second and final stop on the current six-game road trip for the slumping Sox, who have lost a season-high four games in a row and are currently tied for second in the AL East with the fast-charging Blue Jays. The Red Sox are 6-10 since May 29 and have benefited from a couple of ninth-inning comebacks.
The Braves, who have also lost four straight and are only 2-12 in June, are now seven games under .500 for the first time since May 26, 1992. And they trail the NL East leading Mets by a whopping 13 games, putting their 15th consecutive division title very much in doubt.
Some interesting interleague notes, courtesy of the Red Sox pregame package:
Senior circuit stats: The Red Sox won the first two of a three-game series in Philadelphia, May 19-21, in their first action versus the NL this season. The Sox had won their last six games over NL opponents since losing to Pittsburgh on June 18, 2005 before the May 21 setback. Boston has also captured 11 of the last 13 in interleague play starting June 12, 2005. The Sox are 79-81 lifetime vs. the NL in the regular season, 35-45 on road.
Here we go again: The Red Sox and Braves met in home-and-home series from 1999-2002 and have played at least one series every year but 2003. The Sox won two of three in the lone 2005 series at Fenway Park, Boston’s first winning season vs. the Braves since 1998. The Sox won just two of nine meetings in 2002 and 2004. The Sox trail in the all-time series, 23-13. Boston is 5-13 at Fenway Park and 8-10 at Turner Field since interleague play began in 1997.
Young gun reloads: Jon Lester makes his second career big league start tonight at Turner Field. Lester made his major league debut at Fenway Park last Saturday, recording a no-decision in Boston’s 7-4 loss to the Rangers. The rookie allowed three runs on five hits and four walks in 4 1/3 innings, fanning four. Lester made the jump to the majors with 11 Triple-A starts under his belt, going 3-4 with a 2.70 ERA this season for Pawtucket. Lester made three big league appearances (one start) for the Sox in the 2006 spring training Grapefruit League, going 0-2 with a 19.50 ERA.
Pitching in at the plate: Boston pitchers were 3 for 9 with a homer and two RBIs in the three games at Philadelphia in May. As a comparison, all other AL pitchers are a combined 4 for 36 with two RBIs versus the NL in 2006. Josh Beckett’s homer on May 20 against the Phillies was the first long ball by a Red Sox pitcher since Marty Pattin went deep on Sept. 26, 1972 versus Milwaukee. Red Sox starting pitchers have hit safely in three of four and six of the team’s last eight road interleague games beginning June 11, 2005. Since start of 2005, Sox pitchers have a .258 (8 for 31) batting average.
Right on the Manny: Manny Ramirez has 37 homers in interleague play, tied with Sammy Sosa for fourth most all-time, and 110 RBIs, third most in history.
New leading man: Kevin Youkilis returned to the leadoff spot in the Red Sox order the last two nights for the first time since May 29. Among major leaguers with at least 100 at bats in the leadoff, Youkilis has the second best on-base percentage:
Player, Team — OBP
Reed Johnson, TOR — .455
Kevin Youkilis, BOS — .441
Ichiro Suzuki, SEA — .413
Gary Matthews, Jr., BAL — .392
Richie Weeks, MIL — .385
Youkilis is second among major league leadoff batters with 32 walks, trailing only Detroit’s Curtis Granderson (40). David Ortiz will play first base tonight in lieu of Youkilis with no designated hitter being used at the NL park.
Rough stretch in the clutch: The Sox were 26 for 112 (.232) with just six runs scored in the three games in Minnesota and went 5 for 24 with runners in scoring position.
Must see national TV: The Red Sox and Braves will play a pair of national television games this weekend. Saturday’s game will go to approximately 55 percent of the country as the Fox game of the week. Sunday the clubs close the series as the ESPN national night game.