Allen Webster is tasked with the unenviable job of filling the shoes of one of the best pitchers in baseball. With Clay Buchholz's spot in the rotation still open, Webster will make his fourth career start in pursuit of his first Major League win as the Red Sox host the second game of a four-game set with the Blue Jays on Friday night at Fenway Park.
On Thursday, the Red Sox decided to shut down Buchholz's rehab from a sore trapezius muscle for the weekend after an MRI of his right shoulder revealed some inflammation in the bursa sac area. Buchholz has not pitched since June 8 due to that neck soreness, but his numbers before then were some of the best in baseball, as he went 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA and 8.64 strikeouts per nine innings.
Webster has allowed 15 earned runs in 12 innings over his first three spot starts this season, most recently scattering eight hits over 4 1/3 innings in a 10-3 loss to Detroit on Saturday.
The Blue Jays' recent 11-game winning streak may have snapped the rest of the American League into attention, but the Red Sox knew all along about the potential of the club that has been charging from the back of the division since the early days of June.
"I think everybody in the game saw them to be a very strong team," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "Just from the outside looking in, they're pitching much more consistent. Their bullpen has been outstanding."
Boston's 6-4 record against Toronto this season reflects what the rest of baseball now knows: At full strength, the Blue Jays have the firepower to hang with the frontrunners in the AL East and around the league. The Red Sox did not waste any time putting the first contest of a four-game set out of reach, however, tagging Toronto starter Chien-Ming Wang for seven runs in the second inning and hanging on for a 7-4 victory on Thursday night.
"You assume you're going to cool off a little bit. That's the way the game works," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said on Thursday, "but you can't have any reversed fortunes."
Blue Jays starter Josh Johnson, just one of Toronto's key offseason acquisitions who has missed significant time in the first half of the season, will take the mound for the first time since the final win of Toronto's 11-game streak. He benefited from plenty of run support in Sunday's 13-5 win over the Orioles, allowing four runs on seven hits in six innings.
Red Sox: Halfway home
• Thursday's game marked the halfway point of the regular season for the Red Sox, meaning that for a team-record 16th consecutive year, Boston has a winning record through 81 games, at 48-33. Boston's 3 1/2-game lead in the AL East marks the club's largest division lead through its first 81 games since 2007, when the team was 10 1/2 games ahead.
• With Thursday night's victory, Jon Lester continued his domination of the Blue Jays this season. The left-hander is now 3-0 with a 2.79 ERA and 21 strikeouts in three starts against Toronto this year. He exited the game with a sore right hip after facing two batters in the eighth inning.
Blue Jays: Wang gets the early hook
• Wang snapped a streak of 17 2/3 innings without a run on Thursday when he gave up an RBI single to Daniel Nava in the bottom of the second, and the right-hander's night fell apart from there. Wang was pulled after just 1 2/3 innings after allowing seven runs in a nightmarish second frame. It was his shortest start and most earned runs allowed in a single inning since April 18, 2009.
• Shortstop Jose Reyes is hitless in two games since returning from the 60-day disabled list, but he did drive in a run with a sacrifice fly to open up Toronto's two-run eighth inning on Thursday. Reyes missed a total of 66 games due to a severely sprained left ankle.
• The Blue Jays have outscored their opponents 103-63 since June 5, and they have hit 27 homers over that span.
• Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus were held out of Thursday's lineup vs. Lester, who they've each struggled against. Lind is 3-for-29 lifetime against Lester, while Rasmus is 3-for-15. Both are expected to be back in the lineup on Friday.
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.