Series Preview: Houston Astros (7-14) vs. Boston Red Sox (14-7)
After splitting the first six games of the homestand against the Royals and Athletics, the AL-best (14-7) Red Sox take will on the AL-worst (7-14) Houston Astros for four games this weekend before heading back out on the road. Houston, who has the worst record in the American League, heads to Fenway after winning two in a row against the Mariners at Minute Maid Park, and will try to battle against a Red Sox club that is currently first in the AL East.
In the series opener, the current major league ERA leader, Clay Buchholz (4-0, 0.90 ERA) will take on righty Phillip Humber (0-4, 6.63 ERA) who did not get out of the first inning in his last start, a 19-6 loss to the Cleveland Indians. On Friday night, former Red Sox lefty Erik Bedard (0-1, 6.17 ERA) will return to Fenway to face Ryan Dempster (0-2, 3.38 ERA) who has pitched well thus far for the Sox but is still looking for his first win of the season. Saturday night pits two young pitchers against each other, as offseason acquisition Brad Peacock (1-2, 7.50 ERA) takes the hill for Houston against lefty Felix Doubront (2-0, 4.32 ERA). The Astros’ ace, Bud Norris (3-2, 4.13 ERA) will pitch the finale against a yet to be announced Red Sox pitcher. If John Lackey is deemed ready to come off the disabled list, he will take on Norris on Sunday afternoon, and rookie Allen Webster could make a spot start if Lackey is not healthy enough.
The Astros, who have a team made up of a shockingly low $24.3 million payroll for the season, are made up of mostly youngsters and cusp players who were not given opportunities by other teams. The team’s offensive charge has been led by CF Brandon Barnes (.367/1 HR/2 RBI in 15 games), vertically-challenged 2B Jose Altuve (.353/1 HR/9 RBI in 21 games), and spring training acquisition Ronny Cedeno (.333/1 HR/6 RBI in 10 games), and the lineup include a couple of notable names like converted pitcher Rick Ankiel and Haverhill native and former Ray Carlos Pena. Reliever Josh Fields, who was picked from the Red Sox as the first overall pick of the Rule 5 Draft, is currently on the 15-day disabled list for the Astros.
While Houston may not be the sexiest team to watch for four games, their never-ending fire sale will likely continue into July, meaning some pieces may be available to contenders like the Red Sox. Norris has been shopped throughout the last few months, along with starter Lucas Harrell, who will not appear in the series. With Altuve being the only untouchable member of the Astros’ roster, Red Sox personnel may use this weekend as a scouting opportunity for future trades.
On the field, the Red Sox will hope to add yet another series victory against a weak team, capitalizing on the weak Astros’ rotation. With clear advantages (on paper) in the first three pitching matchups of the season, it will be a good chance for the Sox to end the long and emotional homestand on a high note before heading to Toronto and Texas next week.
-This is the Astros’ first trip to Fenway since 2003, when the Sox swept a three-game series from June 13-15. David Ortiz is the only player on either current roster who appeared in that series, as pitcher Wesley Wright, who made his debut in 2008, is the longest-tenured member of the Astros.
-Outfielder Shane Victorino is day-to-day with back spasms, and will sit out until he is symptom-free. His minor injury will not require a DL stint, but he will not appear in Thursday’s game and may not be available until the weekend.
-With Lackey scheduled to return Sunday, the Sox will send Ryan Lavarnway back to Pawtucket after three days with the big club. Lavarnway was called up in place of Alfredo Aceves, who was optioned to AAA Pawtucket following Wednesday’s game.
-Aceves, who has 72 hours to report to Pawtucket, is expected to do so on Saturday, according to reports. When asked how Aceves handled the demotion, manager John Farrell remarked that he “took it like a pro”. The Red Sox have been known to be seeking a trade involving Aceves, and while the Angels look like a potential fit due to a depleted bullpen and open 25-man roster spot, the most likely scenario would see Aceves as a member of the starting rotation in Pawtucket.
-As for bullpen injuries, both LHP Craig Breslow and RHP Joel Hanrahan will make rehab appearances for the PawSox this weekend and will likely be ready at the beginning of next week. Lefty Franklin Morales, who suffered a setback in his rehab, will not be able to pitch for a while. With three pitchers coming off the disabled list soon, the Sox will face some roster decisions that will likely include the demotions of Lavarnway, Daniel Bard, and Alex Wilson.