Red Sox-Royals series preview

July 18, 2014 - 8:59 am

The Red Sox have reason to feel positive going into the unofficial second half of the season. The Sox won five of their last six games before the All-Star break and took three out of four against the lowly Astros last weekend. The success was capped off by an 11-0 win on Sunday highlighted by a complete-game shutout by Clay Buchholz. The run moved the Red Sox into a tie for last place with the Rays in the American League East standings at 43-52. The Royals lost some ground in the in the AL Central race after dropping three out of four to the division-leading Tigers before the break last weekend. At 48-46, Kansas City is 6 1/2 games behind Detroit and 2 1/2 back in the wild card race. When they're at their best, the Royals are led by younger hitters in Salvador Perez, who leads the team with 11 home runs, and shortstop Alcides Escobar, who's batting .283 for the year. Kansas City is led on the mound by right-hander James Shields, who's starting Friday night. Shields (9-5, 3.65 ERA) has battled some inconsistencies as of late but was back to form in his last two starts, allowing two runs and 10 hits in his last 14 innings. The Sox and Royals haven't met this season. Kansas City won five out of seven meetings against the Red Sox in 2013. Here are the pitching matchups for the three-game set. Friday: Buchholz (4-5, 5.42 ERA) vs. Shields (9-5, 3.65 ERA) Saturday: Rubby De La Rosa (2-2, 2.89 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (5-9, 2.76) Sunday: Jon Lester (9-7, 2.65 ERA) vs. Yordano Ventura (7-7, 3.22 ERA) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX -- Buchholz continued his surprise turnaround last Sunday with a dominant performance against the Astros entering the All-Star break. The righty allowed just three hits and struck out 12 over nine shutout innings in an 11-0 Sox win. Buchholz is 2-1 with a 2.73 ERA in four starts since coming off the disabled list last month. He has 23 strikeouts to just one walk and has shrunk his ERA from 7.02 to 5.42 in those starts. -- Rookie Christian Vazquez has made the most of his opportunity since being called up to the big leagues last Wednesday. The 23-year-old is hitting .455/.417/.727 in 11 at-bats over three major league games. He had three runs, five hits and five RBIs in two games against the Astros last weekend and received much praise from his starting pitchers for his work behind the plate. -- Brock Holt continues to find way to impress the Red Sox and their fans this season. Not only did Holt hit .448 in the six games before the All-Star break and drive in the winning run against the White Sox July 9, but he also upped his super-utility status after playing a pair of games at shortstop. WHO'S HOT: ROYALS -- The Red Sox may be getting Shields at the wrong time. After a stretch of allowing three or more runs in eight of nine starts, Shields, most known around Boston as the former ace of the Rays, had two of his strongest starts of the season heading into the break. He's had 18 strikeouts to just one walk in his last two outings while scattering 10 hits over 14 innings. -- Perez continues to be one of the leaders at the plate for the Royals as well. He's hitting .283/.329/.437 with a team-high 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. He made his first start in the All-Star Game on Tuesday for the AL squad. It was his second straight All-Star selection. -- At 32 years old, Omar Infante continues to be as reliable as they come. Infante hit .464 in the seven games before the break. He's hitting .276/.317/.698 with a team-high 46 RBIs for Kansas City this season. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX -- Xander Bogaerts showed some signs of life offensively for the Red Sox in Houston but has yet to regain that consistency at the plate or in the field. Prior to his 2-for-4 effort last Saturday, Bogaerts was hitting .105/.142/.140 in his previous 30 games. The Sox playing Holt at shortstop for Stephen Drew against a pair of lefties may also be a sign that Bogaerts will remain at third rather than his preferred shortstop position anytime soon. -- Mookie Betts is still trying to find his way at the plate. The rookie had a pair of doubles in the Sox' 5-4 win over Chicago on July 9, but those have been his only hits in his last 11 at-bats. Betts is still adjusting to being a major league outfielder as well. Betts got a glove on Houston's Jason Castro's deep fly ball last Saturday but failed to come up with it. Instead, it was a key home run in the Sox' 3-2 loss. -- Pitching has rarely been an issue for the Red Sox this season, but Burke Badenhop has turned into a liability out of the bullpen as of late. He's allowed seven runs in his last 1 2/3 innings, a far cry from the effectiveness he showed back in June. WHO'S NOT: ROYALS -- After a career year at the plate in 2013, Eric Hosmer has had a down fourth season in the major leagues. The 24-year-old is hitting .268/.315/.382 after posting a career-high .302 batting average last season. His numbers this season had been worse, but he's recently been lifted by a 13-game hitting streak. This weekend's series against the Red Sox could be crucial in determining whether or not he can stay to form. While not relatively significant, Hosmer has had a down year at first base as well, committing six errors through 94 games in 2014. His career-high is nine committed in 2012. -- Mike Moustakas is also having the worst season of his young career. Through 75 games, the 25-year-old is at a career-low in batting average (.192) and on-base percentage (.257). Moustakas has had just one multi-hit game in July. -- As designated hitter for all 93 games played this season, Billy Butler hasn't possessed the type of power expected of him or any player at that position. Not only is his .273 batting average a career-low, but he's only hit three homers and 36 RBIs in 341 at-bats this season. The 28-year-old Butler had a 29 home run, 107-RBI season in 2012, dropped off in 2013 and is at his worst in 2014.