The Red Sox won't have to face George Springer in this series, as the Astros outfielder was placed on the disabled list after suffering a fractured wrist when he was hit by a pitch Wednesday against the Royals. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Red Sox-Astros series preview

July 03, 2015 - 5:27 am
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After a solid road trip that kept at least a sliver of hope for the 2015 season alive, the Red Sox return home for a weekend series against the Astros.

Despite a reassuring week, the Red Sox remain in last place in the American League East with a record of 37-44. They sit six games behind the Yankees and Orioles, who are tied for first place, and five back of Tampa Bay and Toronto. The clutter and parity of the division means that the Sox would have to overcome four teams to take the lead, but also that no team is far superior to the others.

Boston went 5-2 in the past week, winning series against division opponents Tampa Bay and Toronto. The team has won six of its last 10 and nine of 14. Designated hitter David Ortiz has been encouraged by the club's progress of late.

"It's good, man," said Oritz after Thursday's 11-2 rout of Toronto. "We haven't been able to play consistently good, you know? If we finish the first half of the season playing the way we have lately, it'll give you hope for the second half, especially when you're in a division where there's not too many games apart. We played the worst the first couple months of the season and we're still six, seven games away. If we start playing better, it'll give you hope."

While the Sox have surprised many with their struggles this season, their weekend foes are just the opposite. The Astros have been shockingly good and hold a solid lead on the rest of the AL West.

Houston has gone 47-34 this season, boasting the highest winning percentage and most wins in the American League and second in all of baseball behind the Cardinals. They are in the driver's seat in the division, holding a five-game lead over the Angels and a 5 1/2-game lead on the Rangers.

The Astros' plus-59 run differential is second best in the AL and fourth best in baseball. They own the eighth-best team ERA in baseball at 3.52 and have scored the third-most runs in the league, with 362. The team's bullpen ERA is fourth best in baseball, and opponents are hitting a meager .194 against Houston relievers. Houston has hit more home runs than anyone in the league.

Astros ace Dallas Keuchel has emerged as one of the premier pitchers in all of baseball, and is enjoying both the team's success and his own, saying that this season is the most fun he's had on a baseball field.

"That's because I've seen the worst," Keuchel said Tuesday. "I've been through a couple of 100-loss seasons. I've been through tryouts with guys coming in and out, a revolving door of a roster. It's very rewarding. For us to be in first place right now, I don't even think we've played that well. I think we have more room to grow, and I think we're a better team than what we've shown so far. And we're 10 games over .500."

The Astros have won six of their last 10 and four straight, including a sweep of the defending AL-champion Royals. They will be without outfielder George Springer, who was placed on the disabled list with a broken right wrist after being hit by a pitch Wednesday.

Here are the pitching matchups for the series:

Friday: Justin Masterson (3-2, 5.58 ERA) vs. Dan Straily (season debut) Saturday: Clay Buchholz (6-6, 3.48 ERA) vs. Collin McHugh (9-3, 4.51 ERA) Sunday: Eduardo Rodriguez (4-2, 3.92 ERA) vs. Lance McCullers (4-2, 2.19 ERA)

WHO'S HOT: RED SOX

-- Alejandro De Aza has been raking of late for Boston. The outfielder is hitting .440 and slugging an even 1.000 in the past seven games, including six extra-base hits and three homers. In 22 games since joining the Red Sox on June 5, De Aza is hitting .319.

-- After a four-hit game on Thursday, Xander Bogaerts is hitting .370 over the past 11 games, including eight doubles and eight RBIs.

-- Right-hander Clay Buchholz has been by far the most solid Sox starter of the season. In his past nine starts, the Texan has posted a 2.13 ERA over 63 1/3 innings.

WHO'S HOT: ASTROS

-- Second baseman Jose Altuve, who appears likely to be the AL starter in the All-Star Game, carries a 10-game hitting streak. He has hit .440 in the past week, knocking 11 hits, including two of his seven homers on the season. Altuve is 6-for-10 in his last two games at Fenway Park.

-- Evan Gattis is hitting .364 in the last six games, including two triples and a double. He has six RBIs in that span.

-- Keuchel has been one of the best pitchers in the league this season, owning a 10-3 record. His 2.03 ERA is best in the AL, and his WHIP of 0.96 is just behind Chris Archer's 0.95 atop the AL.

WHO'S NOT: RED SOX

-- Rick Porcello certainly has not been worth his $82.5 million contract extension this season. His 6.08 ERA is the second highest among all qualified pitchers in baseball, and he has not recorded a win since May 16. In eight starts since, his ERA is 8.18.

-- Mike Napoli has struggled mightily at the dish all season. He has hit .211 in the past week and is below the Mendoza line on the season, batting .199.

-- Since being called back up, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has continued to have trouble with major league pitching, something he has struggled with his whole career. He is hitting .211 with six punchouts in the past seven games.

WHO'S NOT: ASTROS

-- Luis Valbuena leads the Astros in home runs (19), but he has not hit well of late. In the past six games, he has hit just .150 and struck out seven times. For the season, the Venezuelan third baseman is hitting .197/.277/.439. More than a third of his 52 hits on the season are home runs.

-- Catcher Jason Castro has just two hits over his past five games, hitting .133 over that span. He is hitting .214/.277/.375 on the season.

-- Chris Carter is hitting just .190 and has struck out seven times in the past six contests. For the season, he is hitting .198/.314/.411, with 15 of his 52 hits on the season leaving the yard.

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