Red Sox-Astros Preview

The Boston Red Sox’s offense has cooled after a torrid stretch

in June, but a visit to Houston may help them find their swing

again.

After dropping two of three to the team with the best record in

the majors, the Red Sox close their nine-game interleague road trip

with three games against the club with the worst record when they

take on the Astros at Minute Maid Park on Friday.

Boston (46-34) won 14 of 16 from June 3-20, scoring 10 or more

runs six times in that span and averaging 8.0. The Red Sox have

slowed considerably since, averaging 2.5 runs while during a 2-6

stretch.

With the Red Sox unable to use a designated hitter in NL

ballparks, David Ortiz has started only once in the first six games

of the road trip. Boston is hitting .222 on the trek.

The Red Sox arrive in Houston after dropping two of three to

Philadelphia, avoiding the sweep with a 5-2 win Thursday behind

seven shutout innings from Jon Lester and two homers by Jason

Varitek.

“I guess flying after a win is always more fun,” manger Terry

Francona told the team’s official website, “but you try not to

react too much. You don’t like to get in a position where you have

to win a game to save not getting swept, but that’s the way it was.

It was a good game to win.”

Boston’s road trip has a good chance to end on a high note

against Houston (29-53), which had dropped eight straight at home

and five in a row overall before beating Texas 7-0 on Thursday.

Wandy Rodriguez gave up four hits in seven innings while Jason

Michaels and Carlos Lee both homered. Lee had two hits in the

series against the Rangers – both were home runs.

Rodriguez’s effort gave a major boost to a rotation which had

been 0-5 with a 6.25 ERA over the previous eight games.

“To have a game like we did (Thursday) was huge for this team,”

Houston shortstop Clint Barmes said. “It’s definitely been a grind

this year. Wandy throwing the ball as well as he did was huge for

us and it was a lot of fun for us to swing the bats and score some

runs.”

Houston now must face Tim Wakefield (4-3, 4.54 ERA), who remains

three victories shy of 200 after allowing five runs in six innings

of a 6-4 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday.

The 44-year-old knuckleballer made his only appearance against

Houston in 1993, allowing two runs in 3 2-3 innings of a 5-2 win.

He didn’t factor in the decision, making the Astros the only team

Wakefield has never defeated for which he’s also never played.

The Astros will hand the ball to Bud Norris (4-6, 3.36), who has

a 2.00 ERA in his last three starts but has posted an 0-2 record in

those outings while getting one total run of support. He gave up

three runs in five innings of a 7-2 loss to Tampa Bay on

Saturday.

The right-hander, who has two wins in his last 10 starts, is

making his first appearance against the Red Sox.

Boston dropped two of three to the Astros in Houston in 2008,

after sweeping a series at Fenway in 2003.

Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez is batting .446 in

interleague play, but went 1 for 11 in the Phillies series and was

1 for 20 with six strikeouts against the Astros last season with

San Diego.