Carlos Correa is one of the most exciting rookies in he game. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Red Sox-Astros series preview

July 21, 2015 - 9:42 am

The Red Sox head into the last three games of their seven-game road trip following the All-Star break with nothing but bad feelings and a growing suspicion that October baseball may be pipe dream. Fresh off a four-game sweep at the hands of the Angels, the Sox are in disarray. For the series, they were outscored 22-4 as Angels starters put up a 0.93 ERA. Meanwhile their own starters could only muster a 7.23 mark. The Red Sox never led in the series and the top two in their batting order, Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia, were utterly silenced, combining to go 0-for-30 in the four games. The Red Sox now sit at 42-51, which ties them with the Mariners for the worst record in the AL and puts them nine games back of the AL East-leading Yankees. Since their four-game winning streak earlier this month, they have dropped two consecutive series and six of seven games overall. Designated hitter David Ortiz' only explanation for the disappearance of he and his teammates' bats harkens back to the days off supplied by the All-Star break. "We'€™ve been having those times where it doesn'€™t matter what you do, it doesn'€™t work out," Ortiz said after a 3-0 loss Saturday. "We finished the first half good, and hopefully we can blame things to the four days off. We'€™ll see how it goes but hitting is something it'€™s a continuation of what you do the day before, you know what I'€™m saying? That'€™s only way you can stay consistent." Consistency has eluded the Red Sox all season long and the road back to .500 won't get any easier Tuesday when they take on the Astros. The Astros, who have spent most of the season atop the AL West, have fallen prey of late to the midseason bug, watching the Angels win 15-of-18 to overtake them as they have dropped nine of their last 12 contests en route to a 51-43 record. An ultra young squad full to the brim with potential, the Astros never expected to be in contention this late into the season, yet here they are. As pioneers of the sabermetric age in baseball, the Astros pair a young, open-minded manager in A.J. Hinch with the forward thinking of former Cardinals executive Jeff Luhnow. Together, the two have molded one of the strongest rosters in the majors, one that launches the most home runs (128) and that maintains the fourth-lowest bullpen ERA (2.72). On offense, the Astros are loaded with power bats that often come up empty. Players like Chris Carter, George Springer and Evan Gattis are emblematic of the MLB's shift toward the three true outcomes -- home runs, walks and strikeouts. As a team the Astros have the highest strikeout percentage in the majors (24.5 percent), but they also walk a ton (8.3 percent) and hit the most home runs per fly ball of any team (14.7 percent). Meanwhile, on the mound the Astros have displayed a propensity for finding late bloomers like Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh and turning them into solid starters. Keuchel, a seventh-round draft pick in 2009, didn't make his major league debut until the age of 24. Now, at the age of 27, he has emerged as a starting pitcher in this year's All-Star game, leading the AL in wins (12), ERA (2.12) and ground ball rate (64.0 percent). "I take a lot of pride in [leading a young rotation]," Keuchel said after taking home American League co-Player of the Week honors Monday. "All the losses piled up from a couple years ago, and when I first came on the scene, I wasn'€™t very good. So to take some of the pressure off some of the younger guys is going to be key for me to let them relax. I'€™m just trying to do well for the guys behind me. It'€™s fun. It really is." Earlier this month, the Red Sox took two out of three from the Astros, beginning a four-game winning streak. However, the Sox relied heavily on a complete game performance from Clay Buchholz and a seventh-inning, go-ahead two-run homer from Hanley Ramirez to win the series. Fortunately for them, they will not have to face Keuchel and they are catching the Astros at a good time. Here are the pitching matchups for the series: Tuesday: Brian Johnson (ML debut) vs. Vincent Velasquez (0-1, 3.94 ERA) Wednesday: Wade Miley (8-8, 4.49 ERA) vs. Collin McHugh (10-5, 4.35 ERA) Thursday: Rick Porcello (5-10, 5.79 ERA) vs. Lance McCullers (4-3, 2.52 ERA) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX -- Ortiz might finally be back. After receiving heaps of criticism over the last week for missing the last game of the Yankees series before the All-Star break due to sickness, Ortiz has responded in the best possible way, going 9-for-26 during his last seven games with two homers, two doubles and four RBIs. -- Wade Miley showed shades of his 2012 All-Star self last Friday when he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Angels. A Kole Calhoun double eventually snapped his bid for glory, but the start was certainly encouraging for a Red Sox rotation desperate for consistency in the wake of Buchholz' injury. -- Shortstop and All-Star Final Vote candidate Xander Bogaerts was one of the few Red Sox who found success during the Angels series. He went 6-for-14 during the four games with a double and an RBI. For the month, Bogaerts is slashing .404/.417/.474 with 11 RBIs. WHO'S HOT: ASTROS -- Rookie phenom Carlos Correa is a scout's dream right now as he demolished the Rangers during his team's series win this past weekend. The Puerto Rican notched five hits in 11 at-bats and drove in four runs between a home run and a double. -- Similarly to Correa, Preston Tucker, another rookie, had his way with Rangers pitching, as he went 3-for-9 in the series with a homer and two RBIs. Over his last 37 plate appearances, Tucker is slashing .371/.405/.600. -- Lance McCullers will carry some momentum into Thursday's outing as he's flipped a 2.63 ERA over his last 24 innings of work. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX -- After a blistering June, Betts has slunk back into his April and May ways, going 4-for-37 over the last nine games with 11 strikeouts. He went hitless in the Angels series as well, going 0-for-16 in Anaheim. -- Since rejoining the lineup after his hamstring injury last Friday, Pedroia has done anything but help the Red Sox cause. He racked up an 0-for-14 with two strikeouts against the Angels in his first game action since June 24. -- Alexi Ogando has given manager John Farrell a reason to rely heavily on Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara. In his last three appearances dating back to July 5, Ogando has been tagged for six runs on four longballs, good for a 1.294 opponents' OPS. WHO'S NOT: ASTROS -- Colby Rasmus may have started out 2015 strong, but he's hit a wall in the last couple of weeks. The left-handed slugger is 4-for-his-last-32 with 13 strikeouts. -- 2013 All-Star catcher Jason Castro has had trouble pulling himself out of a season-long slump and it's not getting any easier. The 28-year-old backstop has struck out seven times in his last 25 plate appearances and has managed a miserable .376 OPS during the stretch. -- Lefty specialist Joe Thatcher has had an abysmal month of July, giving up four runs over just 1 2/3 innings pitched in seven appearances.