After taking two of three from a strong Athletics team, the Red Sox were faced with much less of a challenge as the Houston Astros rolled into Boston for a four-game set to close out the homestand. Just as a good team should, the Sox swept the series, improving to 18-7 on the season, and head to Toronto with a 2.5 game lead over the Yankees in the AL East and the best record in baseball.
Game 1 – Red Sox 7, Astros 2
W: Buchholz (5-0) L: Humber (0-5)
Just as it has been in all of his starts so far this season, Clay Buchholz’s dominant pitching was the story of the series opener. Striking out ten and giving up only two earned runs on six hits over 7.2 innings, Buchholz improved to 5-0 on the season with a 1.19 ERA (third in MLB). The Red Sox offense struck early against the struggling Humber (0-5, 7.99 ERA on the year), scoring four in the first and scoring all seven within the game’s first five innings. David Ortiz (3-for-4, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI) and Mike Carp (2-for-4, 2 R, 1 RBI) led the offensive charge for the Red Sox while Dustin Pedroia, Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2) and Will Middlebrooks each drove in runs as well. Daniel Bard made his return to the majors in the ninth, pitching a scoreless inning and striking out one to close the door on the Astros.
Game 2 – Red Sox 7, Astros 3
W: Dempster (1-2) L: Bedard (0-2)
The longball was the key for the Sox in game two of the series, a 17-hit performance led by David Ross, who hit two home runs off starter Erik Bedard, and went 4-for-4 on the night. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli, Will Middlebrooks, and Pedro Ciriaco all had multi-hit games for the Sox, with Middlebrooks hitting his sixth home run of the young season. David Ortiz also continued his strong start, hitting his second home run in as many days in the fifth inning against Astros’ reliever Paul Clemens. Red Sox’ starter Ryan Dempster was strong in his six innings of work, surrendering only two earned runs on four hits while striking out ten. Koji Uehara and Alex Wilson each had scoreless innings of relief in the win.
Game 3 – Red Sox 8, Astros 4
W: Doubront (3-0) L: Peacock (1-3)
After a wild two-run Astros’ first inning in which Sox’ starter Felix Doubront hit a batter, walked three, and threw a key wild pitch, the young lefty was able to settle down and get the win, going 6.2 innings and surrendering only three earned runs on four hits in the process. Led by a 2-RBI single by Jacoby Ellsbury and 2-RBI double by David Ortiz, the Sox jumped on top in the second inning and never looked back. Daniel Nava, Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz, and Will Middlebrooks each had two hits for the Sox, who put up twelve in total on the night. Daniel Bard, making his second appearance since his call-up, struggled mightily with control, and was yanked quickly after eight of his nine pitches were balls. Alex Wilson and Andrew Miller were strong in relief for the Sox, who struck out twelve in the victory.
Game 4 – Red Sox 6, Astros 1
W: Lackey (1-0) L: Norris (3-3)
If there was a game that could have gone the other way in this series, Sunday’s looked like the most likely. In starter John Lackey’s first game back from injury, the Sox were up against the Astros’ ace, Bud Norris, who drew consistent trade interest from contenders throughout the offseason. Lackey (6 IP, 1 ER, 5 H, 4 K) was very strong in his outing, showing that he is fully recovered from the bicep injury he suffered on April 6th in Toronto. The Sox’ offense was led by multi-hit games by Daniel Nava, David Ortiz, and Mike Carp, and the team had double-digit hits for the fourth consecutive night. A Stephen Drew triple in the fourth drove in two, and Ortiz also pitched in two RBI on the day.
What To Watch For:
-Hanrahan Returns: Joel Hanrahan will join the team in Toronto after strong rehab outings at AAA Pawtucket, and will take the place of Bard, who heads back to AA Portland after only two appearances with the big league club.
-Breslow Working His Way Back: Lefty Craig Breslow is also at Pawtucket for rehab, and may need a few more appearances after surrendering a run in his inning of work on Sunday. The reliever has not pitched at all for the team this season after being sidelined in spring training with a sore shoulder, and will likely rejoin the team within the next week or so. At that time, the Sox will face a roster crunch and will likely have to decide between Alex Wilson and Clayton Mortensen for the last bullpen spot. Although Wilson has been very impressive so far with in the big leagues, Mortensen is out of options and would have to clear waivers for the Sox to retain him in the minor leagues.
-Victorino Still Ailing- Outfielder Shane Victorino is still day-to-day with back spasms, and may be placed on the disabled list, according to reports. Victorino did not play at all against the Astros but may be ready to return on Tuesday in Toronto.
-Aceves Watch: While righty Alfredo Aceves did report to AAA Pawtucket on Saturday, the door has not been closed on a trade involving him. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that teams have “an open mind” when it comes to trading for Aceves, and speculates that the Angels and Rangers may be good fits. While the Sox will likely get little back for the eccentric Aceves, they may get an offer of value and make a deal in the near future.
-Snyder Impressing: The Sox made a seemingly small signing at the beginning of the season, inking former Oriole and Ranger Brandon Snyder to a minor league deal. Snyder has been very impressive at first base for the PawSox so far this season, hitting .328 with 3 HR and 15 RBI in 19 games. According to Cafardo, scouts have noticed Snyder’s hot start and many teams believe they have a spot for him available on their major league rosters. If the Sox have an injury at first base, Snyder is a very viable replacement option, and he may be available in a trade for the right price.
-Looking Ahead: After ten days of home cooking, the Sox head back out on the road on a six-game trip to Toronto and Texas. In Toronto, the Sox will face a disappointing Blue Jays club searching for their identity at this early juncture of the season, and will hope to further entrench the squad in the cellar of the AL East. Pitching matchups pit Jon Lester against Brandon Morrow, Clay Buchholz against Mark Buehrle, and Ryan Dempster against a pitcher who is yet to be announced for the Jays.