Escobar to start vs. Red Sox in opener

Escobar to go for lucky No. 7 against Boston

The Angels have fattened up lately on some of the American League's worst teams, but now enter the most treacherous part of their schedule.

When the team opens a three-game series against the Red Sox, it will be facing its first winning team since the All-Star break, not to mention one that holds the second-best record in the league. The weekend matchup is the first in a stretch that has the Angels playing a winning team in seven of nine series.

Thanks to a blazing July, the Halos jumped atop the American League West for the first time since April 29. Along with the A's and Rangers, the top three teams in the division are neck-and-neck with each other.

If any of those clubs happened to be in the American League East, though, they'd be stuck in fourth, which makes the Red Sox's lead in that division all the more impressive.

Coming off their largest offensive outburst this year after beating the Devil Rays, 15-6, the Angels will try to pull out victories in Fenway Park, which has been tough of late. The Halos have gone 5-10 in Boston the last three seasons.

"I don't see any intimidation," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We've struggled at times there, but that is a function of how we're playing and not the park."

Friday's contest will pit Kelvim Escobar against Red Sox undefeated rookie Jon Lester. Lester, who was called up in June, has won the first five decisions of his career. He is coming off his worst outing of the year, when the Mariners touched him for five runs in five innings in a no-decision.

Escobar, who missed his first start of the second half with elbow inflammation, returned on Saturday and allowed three runs in seven innings against the Royals, though permitted nothing in his final six innings. The right-hander developed a blister on his middle finger in the start, but the injury isn't expected to hamper him on Friday.

The Angels' own undefeated rookie will pitch on Saturday against Josh Beckett. With a victory, Jered Weaver will become the first pitcher since Fernando Valenzuela in 1981 to win his first eight career starts.

The right-hander passed an important test on Sunday, when he faced a team for the second time. Familiar with Weaver after scoring one unearned run on June 13, the Royals mustered one earned run the second time out.

The teams will finish their series in primetime -- on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Red Sox veteran Curt Schilling will pitch against Angels youngster Ervin Santana. Schilling has won his last three starts and is undefeated this year at Fenway, while Santana suffered his first loss since May 31 on Tuesday.

The Red Sox have one of the top offenses in baseball and have perhaps the best two-hitter combo in the Major Leagues. Together, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez have more than 60 home runs and 170 RBIs already.

"That is the best 1-2 going back a long time," Scioscia said. "You'd have to research to find a left/right combo that hits everybody. They hammer the strike zone and those two are terrific offensive players."

With the recent emergence of Juan Rivera, the Angels have been developing a blistering middle of the lineup as well. Rivera might finally be the support Vladimir Guerrero has always needed in Anaheim and thus far in July has hit .366 with nine home runs.

Pitching matchup
LAA: RHP Kelvim Escobar (6-9, 3.88 ERA)
Escobar is 2-3 with a 5.00 ERA as a starter against the Red Sox.

BOS: LHP Jon Lester (5-0, 3.04 ERA)
The rookie has allowed more than three earned runs in a start just once this year.

Player to watch
Adam Kennedy is hitting .370 with 13 RBIs in his career at Fenway Park.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN West

On radio
• ESPN 710, 830 AM (Español)

Up next
• Saturday: Angels (RHP Jered Weaver, 7-0, 1.15) at Red Sox (RHP Josh Beckett, 13-5, 4.77), 10:20 a.m. PT
• Sunday: Angels (RHP Ervin Santana, 11-4, 4.25) at Red Sox (RHP Curt Schilling, 13-3, 3.60), 5:05 p.m. PT
• Monday: A's (RHP Dan Haren, 6-9, 4.02) at Angels (RHP John Lackey, 9-6, 2.89), 7:05 p.m. PT

Greg Wagner is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.