WEEKEND: Inability to beat weaker clubs has proved Red Sox's undoing


Under normal circumstances this weekend would be the ideal opportunity for the Boston Red Sox to gain ground in the American League East. However, the defending division champions are not operating under normal guidelines for a contender.

Having just been swept by the Yankees in a three-game series in Fenway Park, the Red Sox have a four-game losing streak and have lost seven of their last 10. The slump has dropped them 3 1/2 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays, their biggest deficit of the year.

There is no mystery about the Red Sox decline -- they have been unable to beat up on the weaker teams in the American League. They are 13-15 against teams playing below .500 and 23-19 against teams with winning records.

The Red Sox are 4-11 against the Yankees (1-5), Orioles (1-3) and Indians (2-3), the three bottom teams in the AL East. Overall Boston has a poor 11-17 record within the division, while compiling a 25-17 record against teams in the stronger Western Division.

Meanwhile, after a disastrous start, the Orioles have won eight of their last 12, including five of the last six on the just concluded road trip to Kansas City and Cleveland.

The Orioles will pitch Jose Mesa (4-7, 5.25) against Greg Harris (3-7, 4.42) in the first game of the series tonight (7:35, HTS). Tomorrow afternoon (1:15, Channel 11) it will be Roy Smith (3-1, 5.71) against Danny Darwin (3-4, 4.53). In the series wrapup Sunday (1:35, HTS), Jeff Robinson (3-6, 4.44) faces Roger Clemens (9-5, 2.20).

More than 133,000 tickets have been sold for the three games -- 47,000 tonight, 43,500 tomorrow and 42,600 Sunday.

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