The Boston Red Sox (41-51) head to Texas to take on the Houston Astros (39-54) in their final series before the All-Star break. The Sox are riding high for once, coming off back-to-back walk-off wins against the Chicago White Sox. That barely salvaged a homestand that saw them finish 3-7 at Fenway, but if they can manage to win this series in Houston they could actually have some momentum heading into the break.
The Astros are one of only two teams in the AL that currently have a worse record and run differential than the Red Sox, so the opportunity is there to get back in the mix with the Blue Jays and Yankees struggling.
- John Lackey (9-6, 3.84 ERA) gets the start for Boston. He got hammered in each of his last three starts, allowing 16 runs over 14 innings. Hopefully a trip to his native Texas will help turn things around for the veteran.
- David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia are both having down seasons, but both have been substantially better on the road this season. Ortiz is hitting .274/.365/.554 with 13 of his 19 HR away from Fenway Park, while Pedroia is at .293/.368/.395 with 3 of his 4 HR on the road. That improved production doesn't exactly correlate with the team's road record (18-25) or their career home/road splits.
- Mike Napoli is getting a day off, with Mike Carp getting the start at 1B – possibly as a reward for being the hero in last night's walk-off win.
- Jackie Bradley has moved up to 6th in the lineup for the first time. He's hit either 8th or 9th in 250 of his 261 at-bats this season. Aside from one stray plate appearance where he appeared 4th in the lineup as a pinch hitter, this is the highest he's been in the order this year. He's earned the push up in the order, hitting .350 so far this month.
- Christian Vazquez is back in the lineup tonight, getting his second career start. Presumably he and backup catcher David Ross will continue to alternate through this series. We may see a similar split through the rest of the season, with Vazquez shouldering a bit more of the load as the season progresses. We can still probably count on Ross being behind the dish for Lester's starts at least.
- Scott Feldman (4-5, 3.86 ERA) will be on the mound for Houston. He has a quality start in his last 3 outings and 9 for the season, as part of an underrated pitching rotation that ranks 8th in the AL in ERA (4.01). The Astros overall pitching staff ranks next to last in the league due to their atrocious bullpen (5.10 ERA).
- The Astros blew things up and hit rock bottom with a 111 loss season last year, but there are signs that they could be a team on the rise. One of those signs is rookie sensation George Springer, who is hitting .238/.342/.475 with a team high 19 HR and 50 RBI. He didn't debut until mid-April and struggled as he got his feet wet early on, but went on a tear in May (.295, 10 HR) that showed the kind of sky high potential he has. Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu have been the league's best "rookies" this year, but they both played professionally in other countries before. If you're only counting drafted players making their pro debuts this season, it's hard to find a brighter star than Springer.