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Series Preview: Astros make rare visit to Fenway to take on Red Sox

04.25.13 at 6:12 am ET

The Houston Astros will come to town on Thursday to kick off a four-game series against the Red Sox, Houston’€™s only trip to Fenway in their first year in the American League. The Astros come into the series with an AL-worst 7-14 record, while the Red Sox are the league’€™s best at 14-7 after defeating the Oakland A’€™s on Wednesday.

Houston has only won two of their first seven series, but they’€™re coming off a series victory against Seattle, putting up 13 runs against Joe Saunders and the Mariners.

This is only the fourth regular season meeting between the Red Sox and the Astros in the teams’€™ histories, but that will change now with Houston joining the American League. The last time the Sox played the Astros, they swept a three-game series in July of 2011 in Houston. It’€™s been much longer since the ‘€˜Stros have come to Fenway; the last time they were in Boston was for a three-game set in 2003, a series that the Red Sox also swept.

Here are the pitching matchups for the upcoming games:

Thursday, 4/25: Clay Buchholz vs. Phil Humber

Humber, who threw one of the three perfect games in 2012, is off to a rough start, this year, leading the majors with four losses. He’€™s coming off one of the worst starts of his career in which he recorded only one out, giving up eight runs on eight hits in the 19-6 routing by the Cleveland Indians, ballooning his ERA to 6.63. Buchholz, meanwhile, is leading the American League with a 0.90 ERA in four starts, allowing only 19 hits in his 30.0 IP. Buchholz gave up two runs in eight innings to the Royals in his last start on 4/20, bringing his season total up to only three runs allowed.

Friday, 4/26: Ryan Dempster vs. Erik Bedard

Bedard has struggled thus far in 2013, making three starts and allowing eight runs in 11.2 IP. He’€™s 0-1 but did earn a save in the Astros’€™ first game of 2013 against Texas, going the final 3 1/3 innings. Dempster will face off against Bedard, making his fifth start of the year and coming in 0-2 with a 3.38 ERA. In his last outing he became the first Sox starter to allow more than three runs in a game, giving up four runs on six hits in seven innings against the Royals.

Saturday, 4/27: Felix Doubront vs. Brad Peacock

The Red Sox will get their first look at 25-year-old right-hander Peacock Saturday. Peacock is in his first full season in the majors, going 1-2 in four starts with an ugly 7.50 ERA, allowing six home runs already on the year. Doubront will get the ball for the Red Sox, looking for his 3rd win in four chances. Doubront pitched into the seventh inning in his last outing, allowing 3 runs on 3 hits to the Oakland A’€™s in the series opener.

Sunday, 4/28: TBA vs. Bud Norris

It’€™s very possible that John Lackey will make his return to the Red Sox rotation in time for his next scheduled start on Sunday, but the team will have to reevaluate after he throws a bullpen session on Thursday. If Lackey cannot go on Sunday, the Red Sox will have to make some moves since Alfredo Aceves, who had been starting in Lackey’€™s spot was optioned to Pawtucket after the game on Wednesday. Houston ace Norris will take the mound for the Astros; Norris is 3-2 with a 4.13 ERA,, and is coming off a five-inning outing against the Mariners in which he somehow allowed only one earned run on eight hits and two walks.

Who’€™s Hot: Houston

– Second baseman Jose Altuve, Houston’€™s lone representative in the 2012 All-Star Game, leads the American League with 30 hits over the course of 20 games. His average dipped from .370 to .353 after going hitless in Wednesday’€™s game against the Mariners, but he still ranks among the league’€™s leaders in the category.

Rick Ankiel is having a season that can be described with the same word one might use to describe his career: interesting. Ankiel leads the team with five home runs and boasts a .619 slugging percentage, but his OBP matches his average (.214) and he’€™s struck out 26 times in only 42 at-bats. It’€™s all or nothing with Ankiel at this point.

– The Astros are getting offense from places one might not expect. Brandon Laird, who before Wednesday hadn’€™t contributed much offensively, had a big day yesterday against the Mariners, hitting two home runs and driving in four. Another Brandon, Brandon Barnes, who figures to get more at-bats due Justin Maxwell’€™s injury, is hitting .367 in 30 ABs.

Who’€™s Hot: Boston

Mike Napoli continued his impressive production at the plate in the series against Oakland,  driving in six in the past three games to bring his season total to a league-leading 26 on the year. Napoli currently owns a .274/.330/.560 line.

– Though the offense has been inconsistent, there have been bright spots not named Mike Napoli. Daniel Nava has come up big for the Sox on offense multiple times this year, driving in 15 in 55 ABs while hitting .327 and getting on base at a .426 clip, owning the highest OPS on the team (1.008). David Ortiz has also looked good coming off of his Achilles injury, going 8-16 in his first four games back.

– Minus Alfredo Aceves’€™ disastrous outing on Tuesday night, the Red Sox pitching staff has been one of the best in the league. Though the streak of starters allowing three runs or less is over and the eight runs allowed by Aceves inflated the staff’€™s ERA, the rotation still owns the best ERA in the American League. The bullpen has had its’€™ off nights, but Andrew Bailey is doing a fine job in the closer’€™s role in the absence of Joel Hanrahan.

Who’€™s Not: Houston

– The biggest issue for Houston is clearly their pitching. Their staff owns the worst ERA in the majors (5.19) and has given up the second most home runs (30), while their bullpen has given up the most runs in the league.

– Houston lost one of its more promising players on Tuesday night when Maxwell fractured his hand after being hit by a pitch. Maxwell was one of the team’€™s hotter-hitting regulars and was one of only four players to appear in every game for the Astros.

– The pitching. It’€™s so bad it needs to be mentioned twice. Houston’€™s offense is, perhaps surprisingly, not that bad. They’€™re actually 11th in the majors in OPS, above teams like the Dodgers, the Nationals, reigning World Series champs the Giants, and sit right above the Red Sox. They’€™ve scored more runs than the Angels and the Tigers and their respective stacked lineups. But the pitching, whether it’€™s the rotation or the bullpen, doesn’€™t give this team the chance to win.

Who’€™s Not: Boston

Will Middlebrooks, despite hitting a home run on Monday, is in the midst of a frustrating slump. His average has dropped to .173 with an 0-4 day on Wednesday against the A’€™s. The third baseman hasn’€™t hit many balls hard over the span of the slump, but it seems like everything he hits hard ends up in the seats, since he leads the team in longballs with five.

Jonny Gomes has also been pretty quiet at the plate lately, going just 3 for his last 19 and batting .188/.381/.250 on the season. Despite the lack of run production, Gomes has been getting on base quite a bit, walking 10 times on the year.

– It may be too quick to deem him ‘€œnot hot,’€ but Koji Uehara gave up his second home run in as many games on Wednesday night. It comes as a surprise since Uehara had been lights-out in his first 8 outings, not allowing a run in 22 straight games, dating back to August of last season.

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