Red Sox-Astros series preview

August 05, 2013 - 8:18 am

The Red Sox will kick off an 11-day, three-city road trip on Monday, making the first stop in Houston to take on the Astros. It was a successful and exciting homestand for the Red Sox, though those two words might not do it justice. The Sox walked off twice, technically in the same day as Wednesday night's 15-inning affair extended past midnight, with a six-run ninth inning leading to victory Thursday night after they pulled out the extra-inning win in the previous tilt. Jake Peavy also made his debut this past week, going seven innings while allowing two runs on four hits and earning his first win in a Red Sox uniform Saturday night. The homestand didn't start off on a good note, with the Red Sox dropping a close game to their divisional rivals, the Rays, on a questionable call at home plate. But they ended up taking five of the seven games at home, including a sweep of the Mariners. With just one more win, the Red Sox will match their total from last season. The Sox were unable to gain much ground on the Rays, who also continue to win, but they do own a one-game lead and have an easier schedule over the next couple of weeks. The Red Sox will have a chance to pick up a half-game over the Rays, who do not play Monday. "We're a long way from where we want to be. We've got to continue to do it, not lose focus. Every game counts," right fielder Shane Victorino said. "We've got a tough stretch ahead of us. We've got to stay after it. We haven't gained any ground other than a half a game on Tampa. So they're still right there with us. But we're not worried about what they're doing. We control our own destiny." It will be a long time away from home for the Red Sox, who will play 16 of their next 19 contests on the road. They've been a great home team, winning 39 of 60 games at Fenway while going 29-24 in away games. The last time the Red Sox visited Minute Maid Park, they swept a three-game series back in 2011. This will be only the third time the Sox will play in the Astros' home stadium, with a 4-2 record in six games in Houston. The Sox already hosted the Astros earlier this year, sweeping a four-game series. With the worst record in the majors, the Astros were, to no one's surprise, sellers at this season's trade deadline. The Astros shipped Bud Norris, who was considered the ace of their rotation, to Baltimore. Outfielder Justin Maxwell ended up in Kansas City. Closer Jose Veras, who was one of the few Houston relievers who was having a solid season, was dealt to the Tigers. That leaves starter Erik Bedard as the highest-paid player on the Astros, and he's making just over $1 million for this season.The Astros are a young team with a lot of inexperienced players getting a shot at making an impression in the last half of the season. It's been a tough year for the Astros in their first season in the American League, with a 36-74 record. They sit 27½ games back in the AL West. The Astros return home after a road trip in which they went 2-8, but five of those eight losses were by a margin of two runs or less. Minute Maid Park hasn't given the Astros much of a home-field advantage -- they own the same record (18-37) at home and on the road. Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game set. Monday: John Lackey (7-8, 3.23) vs. Brett Oberholtzer (1-0, 3.77) Tuesday: Steven Wright (2-0, 3.65) vs. Jordan Lyles (4-5, 4.91) Wednesday: Ryan Dempster (6-8, 4.54) vs. Jarred Cosart (1-0, 0.96) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ Felix Doubront may be one of the most underrated players on the Red Sox, if not in the majors, in the last couple of months. The lefty has been tremendous since making his sole relief appearance back on May 8, posting a 2.55 ERA in 15 starts. In those 15 games, Doubront has not allowed more than three earned runs in any outing. Doubront's success continued in his last start, when he threw seven scoreless innings against the Diamondbacks, allowing just five hits while, impressively, issuing zero walks, the first time he's done that since his eight-inning, three-hit performance on June 18. In his last nine starts, he's pitched to a 2.02 ERA, allowing just 13 earned runs in 58 innings, striking out 44 while walking 19. Doubront has lowered his ERA to 3.56 in 21 games this season. '€¢ It seems like Stephen Drew's bat has really come to life in the past couple of weeks. Drew hit safely in six of the seven games on the homestand, delivering the winning hit in the 15th inning of Wednesday's contest and going 10-for-25 with a home run and double in the seven games. Since returning from a stint on the disabled list, Drew is batting .298/.404/.511, driving in 10 runs in 14 games with a double and three home runs to his credit. The hot streak has helped raise Drew's average, which has hovered in the .220 range for the better part of the season, to .244, while his OBP has risen to .329. '€¢ Victorino had a fantastic homestand, batting .400 with a .441 OBP in seven games, clubbing three doubles and two home runs. He finished the stretch at home with a 2-for-3 day, reaching base four times after being hit by a pitch twice. The right fielder, who seemed to be uninjured after throwing himself into the right-field wall in pursuit of a foul ball in Sunday's game, has put up a .290/.337/.423 line with seven home runs and 34 RBIs in 79 games. WHO'S HOT: ASTROS '€¢ The trade of Norris led to some open spots in the rotation, and Jarred Cosart is taking advantage. Cosart, a 23-year-old righty, was masterful in his big league debut, tossing eight innings of near no-hit ball, taking a no-no into the seventh inning before surrendering a single. Cosart earned the win, allowing just two hits and three walks on the day. Cosart has been impressive in his three subsequent starts as well, and comes into the series with a 0.96 ERA and 1.071 WHIP in four starts. The only number that sticks out when looking at what he's done is the big leagues is his strikeout-to-walk ratio -- he's issued 12 walks and struck out only 11 in 28 innings. But in his last outing, a seven-inning effort against the Twins in which he allowed only one earned run, he struck out four while issuing only one walk. '€¢ Second baseman Jose Altuve is easily the most well-known player on the Astros, and for good reason. The 23-year-old is enjoying another solid season in his third year, batting .283/.322/.361 with 16 doubles, two triples and four home runs in 101 games. He's currently working on a six-game hit streak and is hitting .317 with a .396 OBP in his last 11 contests. Altuve leads the Astros in batting average and hits as well as steals, swiping 26 bags in 33 chances. '€¢ Another Astro taking advantage of newly created opportunities for playing time is Robbie Grossman, who has made the most of his second stint with the big league club this season. Grossman has hit safely in all seven games he's appeared in since being recalled in late July, batting .480/.536/.680 with a home run and two doubles.The outfielder has played in 35 games for Houston in his first year in the majors, compiling a .250/.350/.324 line, drawing walks in almost 12 percent of his plate appearances. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ Perhaps it was a bit premature to declare that Dustin Pedroia had broken out of his slump. After two great games in the middle of the series with the Mariners, Pedroia went 3-for-16 with a double and two singles in the last four games of the homestand, though he did also draw three walks. The second baseman is batting only .154/.233/.262 over his last 16 games, driving in 10 runs with a double and two home runs. His line has fallen slightly, with Pedroia hitting .316/.396/.436 in his first 96 games. He's now batting .293/.372/.410 through a team-leading 112 contests. '€¢ Jon Lester took a step backward in his last start after a promising outing in Baltimore in which he allowed only four hits in seven scoreless innings. But Lester was knocked around by the Diamondbacks, allowing 11 hits and six runs in just 4 1/3 innings, which stands as his shortest start of the season. The lefty's shown flashes of his old self through the past couple of months, but overall he hasn't been good, posting a 5.74 ERA since the end of May, with opposing batters hitting .306/.363/.525 against him in that span. '€¢ David Ortiz had a relatively quiet homestand, at least by his standards. Since that four-hit showing in Baltimore, Ortiz has gone 6-for-30 in his last seven games, though one of those hits was a home run while another was a double. He hit safely in six of the seven games at home and drove in four runs, but didn't get multiple hits in any one game. Ortiz still leads the team in batting average (.318), OBP (.399), slugging percentage (.582), home runs (21) and RBIs (71). WHO'S NOT: ASTROS '€¢ Chris Carter and Mike Napoli are engaged in a tight race for a dubious title: most strikeouts in the majors. Carter owns the lead, but it's a slim one, with just one more strikeout than Napoli, fanning 145 times in 343 at-bats. While Carter is striking out about 36 percent of the time, he's failed to be productive in other aspects as of late, hitting just .098/.196/.171 in his last 11 games, driving in four runs with four hits and five walks in 46 plate appearances. Carter hasn't given the Astros much offense all season, batting just .213/.314/.426, though he leads the team with 19 home runs and ranks second with 52 RBIs. '€¢ Lucas Harrell was sent to the bullpen after posting a 5.04 ERA and 5-9 record in 19 starts, but the transition to his new role in relief has not been going smoothly. Harrell, who was a legitimate candidate for the Opening Day start in spring training, has allowed earned runs in all five of his relief appearances, though he did receive one start back on July 30 before coming out of the bullpen a few days later. Since being moved out of the rotation indefinitely, the 28-year-old has compiled a 7.23 ERA in 18 2/3 innings, issuing 17 walks while striking out only six. '€¢ The Astros' lone All-Star representative, Jason Castro, is having a fine season in his first year in a full-time role. But the catcher has been enduring a cold stretch at the plate, batting .212/.305/.327 with 22 strikeouts in his last 13 games. Castro does have a five-game hit streak, but in four of those five contests, Castro has only one hit, and that hit was a single. Despite the slump, Castro is one of the Astros' few consistent hitters, batting .263/.330/.454 with 29 doubles and 13 home runs on the season.