Red Sox-Royals series preview

August 08, 2013 - 7:33 am

The Red Sox will look to gain more ground in the AL East as they continue their long road trip, making a stop in Kansas City to take on the Royals in a four-game weekend set. What a difference a year makes. On Aug. 8 last season, the Red Sox were two games under .500 at 55-57, 10 games back of the division lead. That team wouldn't pull above .500 for the rest of the season. This year, the Red Sox have already surpassed 2012's win total with their 70th victory in their 116th game, and thanks to a Rays loss on Wednesday, sit atop the division with a 2½-game lead. This team has never fallen below .500, and now is 24 games above .500, the most over .500 since Sept. 16, 2011. The Sox' last series victory wasn't necessarily clean nor was it pretty, but they got the job done. The Red Sox had to mount comebacks over sizable deficits in the final two games of their series against the last-place Astros, managing to clinch the series win and take the season series with the Astros six games to one. It was the fourth series win in a row for the Sox, and it allowed them to gain some ground over the Rays, who dropped two games to the Diamondbacks. Taking on the Royals will be no easy task for the Red Sox. Though they're a third-place team and 8½ games back of the division lead, the Royals are hot. They're now five games above .500 (they even have a better record than the Yankees) and have won six straight series for the first time since 1991, when they posted nine straight series wins. They've won 13 of their last 15 games after taking the rubber match of their three-game set with the Twins, and have gone 15-4 in the unofficial second half. "This is a hot baseball team right here," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of the Royals, who have won 12 of 16 games against his club. "They're doing a lot of things good. If you make mistakes against them right now, they'll kill you." "Right now, everyone feels good about themselves for the most part when they step into the box," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Over the course of a long season, you have periods where you feel really good and you have periods when you don't. The key to good clubs is that you've got four or five guys going good at the same time and the other three guys that aren't going so good, you'll find a time when those three guys are going good and everybody is picking everybody up and that is what we've done so well lately." Like the Red Sox, the Royals have come up with some late-inning magic to pull out wins. They've taken eight of 10 extra-inning games, while they're only 50-51 in regular nine-inning contests. Also like the Sox, the Royals play best when they're at home, going 29-25 at Kauffman Stadium while only 29-28 on the road. The Royals took two of three from the Red Sox at Fenway back in April, the emotional weekend after the Boston Marathon bombing. Here are the pitching matchups for the four-game set. Thursday: Jon Lester (10-6, 4.52) vs. Bruce Chen (4-0, 2.03) Friday: Jake Peavy (1-0, 2.57) vs. Ervin Santana (8-6, 2.97) Saturday: Felix Doubront (8-5, 3.56) vs. Jeremy Guthrie (12-7, 3.96) Sunday: John Lackey (7-9, 3.21) vs. James Shields (6-8, 3.36) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ David Ortiz achieved something in the last two days that he's never done before in his 17-year career: four hits in consecutive games. Ortiz was a singles machine during the series with the Astros, going 4-for-4 on Tuesday and 4-for-5 on Wednesday, driving in two runs and scoring twice in the series. Ortiz is hitting .413/.451/.565 in his last 11 games, with three four-hit games in that span. Ortiz's average on the season now stands at .332, the highest it's been since June 4. With two walks and no strikeouts in the last series, Ortiz has totaled only four more strikeouts than walks in 415 plate appearances this season. '€¢ Stephen Drew came through in a big way on Wednesday with a three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning that would prove to be the game-winner, clinching the series victory over the Astros. The shortstop has been coming through a lot lately and now is riding an eight-game hit streak and batting .464/.579/.714 with two home runs and seven RBIs over the life of that streak. Since coming off the disabled list on July 20, Drew is batting .316 with 12 walks and six extra-base hits in 57 at-bats and has managed to raise his line to .249/.339/.439 on the year. '€¢ Koji Uehara continues to be one of the most solid relievers in the game this season. The Red Sox closer has not allowed an earned run in his last 17 games, giving up only seven hits and two walks in that span while striking out 25. Since taking over the duties as the closer, Uehara owns a 0.40 ERA, while the opposition is batting just .120 with a .316 OPS against him. He's fanned 32 batters while issuing only two walks. Uehara earned his 11th save on Wednesday with a scoreless inning against the Astros. He is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 0.707 WHIP. WHO'S HOT: ROYALS '€¢ The entire Royals rotation has been turning in solid performances lately, but Santana truly has been pitching like an ace. Santana has compiled a 1.27 ERA over his last four starts; that's a total of four earned runs in his last 28 1/3 innings, striking out 22 while issuing seven walks and giving up 18 hits. Opposing batting are hitting only .184 with a .462 OPS against Santana over those four starts. Santana has given the Royals quality starts in 11 of his last 12 games, with an eight-run, 10-hit outing in New York on July 11 being the only outlier for him since June 1. Santana owns the lowest ERA in the rotation at 2.97, with an 8-6 record in his 22 starts. '€¢ First baseman Eric Hosmer has easily been one of the Royals' hottest hitters in the past couple of weeks. Hosmer is batting .379/.400/.576 with four doubles and three home runs in his past 15 games, and not only is he working on a six-game hitting streak, he's recorded multi-hit games in five straight contests, going 11-for-21 over the life of that streak. Hosmer leads the Royals with a .785 OPS and 12 home runs in 109 games. '€¢ Greg Holland may be one of the most underrated bullpen arms in the game this year. The Royals closer has been lights out just about all season, with 30 saves and a 1.64 ERA in 44 innings, allowing only eight runs on the season. But he's been especially dominant as of late, with only one earned run allowed in his last 14 games, good for a 0.64 ERA. Holland has struck out 41 percent of batters he's faced (an average of over 14 per nine innings) while allowing walks to 7 percent of batters and hits only 17 percent of the time. He's allowed only 41 baserunners while striking out 70. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ It's been a rough stretch for Mike Napoli, who is mired in an 0-for-15 slump in his last five games. The first baseman is hitting only .119/.275/.167 with two doubles in 11 contests since his last home run, striking out 19 times in 51 plate appearances (though he has drawn eight walks). Since the beginning of July, Napoli is hitting .218 with strikeouts in 37 percent of his plate appearances. Though his strikeout rate has climbed in the last month or so, Napoli still hasn't succeeded the Astros' Chris Carter for the most strikeouts in the majors; Napoli has totaled 147, two less than Carter. '€¢ The recent performance of the two third basemen on the Red Sox roster may have the club looking at other options in the near future. Brandon Snyder has only three hits in his last 24 at-bats, dropping his line to .209/.227/.419 in 21 games this season. He's also struck out 12 times without drawing a walk. Brock Holt got off to a hot start in his first major league stint, but since being recalled after Jose Iglesias was dealt, Holt is batting .143/.240/.238 in 26 plate appearances. '€¢ With Napoli slumping and Daniel Nava missing games on paternity leave, Mike Carp has been getting more playing time. However, he's found himself in a bit of a funk, going 2-for-19 with a walk and no extra-base hits in his last six contests (all games he started). Carp has been streaky all season; when he's good, he's really good, but he's prone to dramatic slumps as well. However, Carp has been very productive for the Red Sox this season, hitting .302/.361/.562 with eight home runs, two triples and 14 doubles. WHO'S NOT: ROYALS '€¢ Alex Gordon was instrumental in the Royals' last victory over the Twins, but prior to going 2-for-4 with a home run in Wednesday's contest, Gordon was stuck in a 1-for-22 skid. The center fielder is hitting only .186/.213/.371 over his last 16 games, drawing only one walk in that span. The slump has caused Gordon's slash line to fall to .265/.333/.405 on the season, with 17 doubles (after leading the majors with 51 a year ago), five triples and 11 home runs. '€¢ Billy Butler collected his first extra-base hit in nine games on Wednesday, and he is without a home run in his last 12 contests. In fact, he's hit only one long ball in his last 23 games and has only nine in 111 games this season after clubbing 29 in 2012. Butler is hitting .212 with a .289 OBP in his last 10 games, though he has drawn four walks. Overall, Butler is having a solid season, batting .278/.374/.403 with 57 RBIs, but he's failed to put up the same kind of power numbers he displayed last season. However, Butler has drawn walks in 13 percent of plate appearances while striking out in only 15.4 percent of them, a marked improvement from 2012. '€¢ The Royals pitching staff has been stellar in the past few weeks, but if there's one weak link as of late, it's Luis Mendoza. The righty was moved out of the rotation in mid-July and has appeared in only two games since his last start on July 7, in which he last only an inning and two-thirds, giving up five runs on five hits and two walks. In his last 10 2/3 innings, Mendoza has allowed 16 runs (a 13.50 ERA) on 20 hits and nine walks, including two home runs, while striking out three and hitting a batter. His most recent outing was in the 10th and 11th innings of a game on Aug. 2, in which he allowed the decisive two runs. Mendoza is 2-6 with a 5.32 ERA in 15 starts and three relief appearances.