The Red Sox have been atop the American League East since May 27, a 59-day reign that they'd like to extend even further on Friday.
With a half-game lead over Tampa Bay, Boston didn't get a chance to face off for the division's top spot on Thursday because of a rainout. Right-hander John Lackey would have pitched for the Red Sox against the Rays, but instead he'll take the ball against the Orioles on Friday night at Camden Yards.
"We didn't want to get in a start-and-then-stop situation and then, if we don't get past an official game, does that cause us to lose John Lackey over the next four or five days?" Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "So that, in addition to Monday being the best of all available alternatives [for a makeup game] for both sides, it seemed to make the most sense."
Farrell might also be eager to send Lackey to the mound considering he's been Boston's best starter recently. His most recent start, a loss on Saturday to the Yankees, snapped a six-game streak of going at least seven innings and giving up two runs or fewer. Against New York he gave up four runs over 6 1/3 innings, but he was still encouraged with how he felt.
"I feel pretty strong right now. The last month or two have been pretty solid," Lackey said. "I'm just going to try to keep working hard at it and try to give us a good chance to win."
Although Boston might see this series as a chance to hold back Tampa Bay in the standings, it's also a chance for Baltimore to snap a three-game losing streak and make up some ground. The Orioles are only four games back in the AL East, and they'll open the series with right-hander Chris Tillman, who's won eight of his last nine starts.
And he'll be throwing to catcher Matt Wieters, who's led Baltimore's lineup since the All-Star break. Wieters enters the series opener with a season-high seven-game hitting streak and a five-game multihit streak after going 2-for-4 in Thursday's 7-1 loss to the Royals.
"I've always been amazed by any catcher who has good offensive numbers, whether it be [Buster] Posey or [Yadier] Molina or Matty. I think the hardest thing to do is be a good defensive catcher and be an offensive contributor," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He's also been great protection as a switch-hitter behind Chris [Davis].
"I'm real proud of him. ... He's been remarkable, and I think that's what makes him valuable. He can contribute in so many ways.
"We like Matty up there in any situation. He's one of those guys who, if things aren't going well offensively, you know eventually someone is going to pay for it. Just because of his personality and who he is, you have a pretty good idea of where he's going to be at the end of the season. When you watch other catchers, you realize how spoiled we are."
Red Sox: Rotation set after rainout
Following Lackey in the post-rainout rotation will be Ryan Dempster and Jon Lester, who will finish out the three-game set against the Orioles, then Felix Doubront will start Monday's makeup game against the Rays. Tampa Bay hasn't announced its starter for that game, though it figures to be either lefty David Price or right-hander Roberto Hernandez.
Brandon Workman will start Tuesday's series opener against the Mariners, and he'll also be available out of the bullpen on Friday and Saturday, if needed.
"We're keeping four of the five guys on their normal turn despite John and Ryan getting an extra day," Farrell said. "We just felt like, with Lester and Doubront in those slots, that was the way to go."
• After hitting .435 in 135 at-bats, Jose Iglesias has hit an inevitable slump, batting just .197/.250/.212 in 66 at-bats since July 3. But Farrell stressed that the Red Sox won't give up on Iglesias considering everything he's capable of doing.
"He gives us the ability to do a number of things inside the game offensively," Farrell said. "Defensively, [his talent] speaks for itself. That's going to be well above average."
Orioles: Urrutia continues to impress with first triple
Outfielder Henry Urrutia has impressed his new teammates and coaches by displaying a mature approach at the plate during his first week in the Majors. He continued to produce on Thursday, picking up two hits -- including his first triple -- and pushing his average to .350. With Boston starting right-handers on Friday and Saturday, Urrutia figures to once again be in the lineup as the designated hitter.
"He doesn't look out of place at all," Showalter said. "[Triple-A Norfolk manager] Ron Johnson had a great description: He said, 'He fills up the batter's box.' You look forward to seeing him hit. I think as he gets his feet more on the ground, I think he's going to be a contributor for us. He handles himself well. [There are] some new things for him -- one, pinch-hitting some and two, DH-ing is probably a little new to him."
• Showalter expressed confidence that left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, currently with Triple-A Norfolk, will regain his old form. But he's had trouble doing so lately, as he could not finish five innings on Thursday.
Wada, who signed a two-year, $8.15 million contract in December 2011, has yet to throw a pitch for the Orioles. He underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2012 and has posted a 2-5 record and 5.54 ERA in 13 starts for Norfolk.
• Tillman is attempting to become the first Orioles pitcher to win 13 games in a season since Erik Bedard in 2007.
• Red Sox starters have allowed three earned runs or fewer in 17 of their last 21 games, including four straight and eight of the last nine.