Red Sox-Astros series preview

July 11, 2014 - 3:19 pm
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It was quite the eventful end to the lengthy homestand for the Red Sox. The club shook up their roster, designating veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski for assignment and adding rookie Chrisitan Vazquez. Since the move on Wednesday, they've won twice in dramatic fashion with two walkoff wins in a row. Brock Holt was the hero on Wednesday while Mike Carp came through with a pinch-hit RBI on Thursday, but the victories were team wins, all-in-all. Despite the thrilling victories, the Red Sox still had an ugly homestand, going 3-7 over the 10 games. They go to Houston occupying the cellar of the AL East, their 41-51 record leaving them 9 1/2 games behind the division-leading Orioles. But the Red Sox hope the youth movement will give them a spark to get back into the race. "I know they've got a couple of different guys in the lineup, but for the most part the main guys are still there," Scott Feldman, who will start in the series opener for the Astros, told MLB.com. "I think it's a matter of time before they get hot. I know they're a few games under .500 or whatever, but looking up and down their lineup, they still have a lot of good hitters in their lineup." In a rather surprising turn of events, the Astros aren't in last place. They're 19 1/2 games out of first, but the Rangers sit a half-game below them in the standings. The Astros are another team committed to youth, with several highly-touted rookies, like George Springer and Jon Singleton, becoming mainstays in the lineup. They're coming off of a sweep of the Rangers after they'd lost seven games in a row. They even tagged Rangers ace Yu Darvish for six runs on 10 hits in the series finale. "I think this is getting back to how we were playing in May and early June, and obviously when you're swinging the bat, you're always in the game," Springer said, according to MLB.com. "We've got three good starts from our guys and they held an extremely good team over there to three, four, five runs, and that's obviously big." The Astros and Red Sox have yet to meet this season, but the Sox have taken six of seven contests since the Astros moved to the AL last season. Here are the pitching matchups for the weekend set, the last series before the All-Star break: Friday: John Lackey (9-6, 3.84) vs. Scott Feldman (4-5, 3.86) Saturday: Jake Peavy (1-7, 4.64) vs. TBD Sunday: Clay Buchholz (3-5, 6.11) vs. TBD WHO'S HOT: RED SOX - Daniel Nava hasn't been in the starting lineup for the last couple games, but he's played pivotal roles in both of the walkoff wins. On Wednesday, he drove in a run with a pinch-hit double to knot the game at four, and on Thursday he drew a crucial walk and came around to score the winning run. Nava has looked like his 2013 self more and more lately, hitting .289 with a .385 OBP over his last 52 plate appearances. - Andrew Miller has been one of the more stable members in a bullpen that has been less consistent than usual lately. He's allowed just three hits over his last seven scoreless appearances, striking out nine batters. The lefty is striking out an average of almost 14 1/2 batters per nine innings, which represents a career-high rate. - Dustin Pedroia had a great homestand as his bat continues to spring back into form. The second baseman went 13-for-42 with a pair of doubles and four RBIs over the 10 games, and has hit .388 over his last 12 contests. WHO'S HOT: ASTROS  - The lone Astros representative in this year's All-Star Game, Jose Altuve has been a hits machine. Through 90 games, he's still hitting .339, leading the majors with 127 hits and leading the American League with 41 stolen bases. On top of those numbers, he's struck out in less than seven percent of his plate appearances. The second baseman is even hotter as of late, hitting .373/.397/.441 over his last 14 games. - Veteran reliever Chad Qualls is having a great year in his age-35 season, serving as the Astros' closer and posting a 1.99 ERA with nine saves. He's walked just four batters in his 31 2/3 innings of work. - Rookie Enrique Hernandez (who is also known as 'Kike' Hernandez), a 22-year-old super utility guy who was promoted at the beginning of July, has seen his minor league success carry over to the majors. In nine games, Hernandez is hitting .345 with two doubles, a triple and a home run with four RBIs. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX - Mike Napoli had a quiet homestand, going 6-for-34 with two doubles and 16 strikeouts in his last 43 plates appearances. He did manage to work nine walks, but Napoli's average on the season has fallen to .265. He does, however, lead the team in OBP at .388, 30 points higher than the second-highest ranking player. - Craig Breslow has had a very inconsistent season, posting a 5.06 ERA in 32 innings this year. Over his last seven appearances and 6 1/3 innings, he's allowed nine hits and seven earned runs, walking three and striking out four. Opposing hitters are batting .321 against him over that span. - Since homering in back-to-back games in Saturday's double-header, Stephen Drew has been hitless in his last 13 at-bats. He's drawn three walks (one intentional) but has fanned in half of his plate appearances over his last five games. Drew is batting just .128/.185/.233 on the season. WHO'S NOT: ASTROS - Though Singleton is one of the Astros' top prospects, he's struggled in his first stint in the majors. He's batting just .200/.294/.392 through his first 35 games. But Singleton has shown signs of heating up over his last few games; he's 6-for-his-last-12 with three extra-base hits in his last three contests. - Outfielder Robbie Grossman has had a rough year. He endured a 24-at-bat hitless streak before being demoted. The 24-year-old was recently recalled and put together a four-hit game on Wednesday, but is still hitting an anemic .179/.289/.309 on the season. - Since being traded to the Astros from the Cubs back in June (his second stint with the Astros in the past two years), reliever Jose Veras has struggled. He's allowed runs in three of his six appearances since returning to the American League, giving up five hits in six innings of work. Veras owns an ugly 6.98 ERA in 19 1/3 innings between the two teams this season.

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