Ben Zobrist has been hot at the plate since being acquired by the Royals from the A's last month. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Red Sox-Royals series preview

August 20, 2015 - 5:15 am
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With Wednesday's victory over the Indians, the Red Sox have won three of their last four series and scored an overwhelming 8.36 runs per game in that time. However, that doesn't mean it's all smooth sailing, as the Sox have given up 5.81 runs per game in that same period. The roster isn't fixed by any means, and there's no one suggesting that it might be. But changes are being made in Fenway Park, namely the ushering in of the Dave Dombrowski era and the end of the Ben Cherington era. The newly named president of baseball operations was released by the Tigers on Aug. 4 and officially introduced as a member of the Red Sox organization on Wednesday afternoon. "You look at the ball club, it's a situation where there's a lot of great young talent breaking in at the major league level at this time," Dombrowski said during his introduction. "The minor league system has a lot of talent also. When you start looking at opportunities that come around, there aren't many opportunities like this that exist. ... It's a great opportunity." When the Royals roll into Boston for a four-game series beginning Thursday, the Sox will have a tougher test than what they faced against their most recent opponents in the Indians, Mariners, Marlins and Tigers. Among those four teams, none have records above .500. Kansas City, on the other hand, has the best record in the American League and second only to the Cardinals in all of the majors. Riding a five-game winning streak, the longest active streak in the majors, the Royals are just all-around good. They're a top-five club in terms of team batting average (.269, third), hits (1094, fifth), doubles (214, fourth), triples (31, fifth), stolen bases (82, fifth), team ERA (3.51, fifth), hits allowed (974, fourth), runs allowed (440, fourth) and earned runs allowed (415, fifth). They're also coming off a two-game sweep of the Reds, which was comprised of a pair of close games. The first was a 13-inning affair that Kansas City won 3-1, and the second was a 4-3 victory in a typical, nine-inning fashion. Both of those victories can be partially attributed to the strength of the Royals bullpen. While the pitching staff as a whole is impressive, the bullpen is KC's real asset. Royals relievers have the second-best opponent batting average (.209) and ERA (2.39) among all 30 MLB teams. They've also allowed the second-fewest runs (112) and earned runs (104) in the majors -- fewest among AL teams -- are third in the big leagues in terms of WHIP (1.09) and are fourth in terms of fewest hits allowed (297). "Everybody chipped in," Royals manager Ned Yost said of the bullpen after Tuesday's 13-inning win. "I mean, we went right down to the last man in [Greg] Holland. Everybody did a great job in coming in and holding the fort until we could score some runs." Even so, the Red Sox have a winning record against Kansas City this season. The teams have only played three games against one another, but Boston came out with the series win back in June at Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals are 42-20. The Sox took the first and third games of the set, scoring a total of 24 runs over the course of three games and allowing 12. The Royals still have a 31-26 mark on the road, but the Sox' Wednesday win pushed their home record over .500 for the year, and they've now won seven of their last 10 games at Fenway. Here are the pitching matchups for the series: Thursday: Wade Miley (9-9, 4.58 ERA) vs. Danny Duffy (6-5, 4.03 ERA) Friday: Henry Owens (1-1, 6.19 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (9-7, 2.46 ERA) Saturday: Matt Barnes (3-3, 6.59 ERA) vs. Yordano Ventura (7-7, 4.82 ERA) Sunday: Eduardo Rodriguez (7-5, 4.48 ERA) vs. Edinson Volquez (11-7, 3.20 ERA) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX -- In his last 20 at-bats, Jackie Bradley Jr. has 10 hits, and with five doubles and three home runs, eight of those hits have gone for extra bases. The outfielder also has 11 RBIs in that time, eight runs himself, three walks and a slugging percentage of 1.200. -- Travis Shaw has posted a .481/.517/.963 slash line over his past six games, collecting 13 hits in 27 at-bats with a double, four home runs, seven RBIs and three walks. During the Sox' series with the Indians this week, Shaw was 7-for-11. -- David Ortiz hit career home run No. 492 on Wednesday night, getting just that much closer to 500. He's also been putting up some impressive numbers recently, slashing .478/.483/.783 in his last six games with four doubles, a home run, seven RBIs and an 11-game hit streak. WHO'S HOT: ROYALS -- Since getting traded from the A's, Ben Zobrist has made significant contributions to the Royals. In 17 games with Kansas City, the infielder is slashing .344/.446/.590 with four home runs, 12 RBIs and 12 walks to just six strikeouts. In the last six games alone, Zobrist is 13-for-23 with four doubles, a homer, five RBIs and six walks. -- Eric Hosmer is batting .348 in his last six games with a team-leading seven RBIs. He also has a pair of home runs, a double and seven walks for an on-base percentage of .500 and a slugging percentage of .652. Hosmer has at least one hit in each of his last 10 games. -- Johnny Cueto joined the Royals prior to the deadline and has posted improved numbers since donning blue and white. Through four starts for Kansas City, Cueto is 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA, having allowed just six earned runs in 30 innings of work. He's holding batters to a .222 average and has a WHIP of 0.93 in that time. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX -- Matt Barnes made his first major league start Monday and gave up six earned runs in five innings, walking three in the process. Five of those runs came in the fourth inning. He struck out seven, boosting his average to 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. -- Henry Owens hurled five strong innings with just one earned run on Aug. 9, but he had some trouble in his latest start against the Mariners on Sunday. The lefty managed six frames of work and allowed seven earned runs on 10 hits, though he struck out 10. -- Tommy Layne has conceded earned runs in four of his last five appearances for the Sox. In August, the reliever has accumulated four innings with six total earned runs for a 13.50 ERA. Coming into this month, he had a 3.51 ERA, but after his recent performances it's now 4.42 for the year. WHO'S NOT: ROYALS -- Lorenzo Cain is batting .311 on the year, and he's hit .297 in the month of August so far, but his last five games have seen him slash just .208/.240/.250 with five hits in 24 at-bats. During that span, the outfielder has a double, three RBIs, no walks, three stolen bases and four strikeouts. -- Alcides Escobar is someone else who's doing OK in the hitting department this season with a .271/.311/.334 slash line, but recently he's had trouble matching those numbers. Over his most recent 28 at-bats, the infielder has a line of .214/.267/.214 with six singles and a pair of walks. -- Alex Rios has one hit in his last 16 at-bats and two in his last 24. He has a pair of RBIs in that time, plus a walk, but both hits were singles.

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