Red Sox-Astros Preview

The Associated Press

The Boston Red Sox are going to be on the road for most of the next three weeks, but their travels begin in a favorable place.

The AL-leading Red Sox will face baseball's worst team as they send John Lackey to the mound Monday night in the opener of a three-game set against the Houston Astros.

Boston (68-45) begins a 10-game trip and a stretch in which it plays 16 of 19 on the road with its third visit to Minute Maid Park. It dropped two of three in 2008 before sweeping a three-game series in 2011.

The Red Sox have won seven straight over the Astros (36-74), sweeping four home games April 25-28 with Lackey (7-8, 3.23 ERA) capping that series by allowing one run over six innings to earn a 6-1 victory.

The right-hander, who has never pitched in Houston, is 0-2 with a 5.49 ERA in his last three outings after a six-start stretch in which he went 4-1 with a 2.30 ERA.

Lackey has been more vulnerable on the road, going 3-6 with a 4.11 ERA in 11 outings compared to his 4-2 mark and 2.15 ERA at home.

The Red Sox will be without Daniel Nava, who will be placed on the paternity leave list. Nava scored a team-high five runs in the April sweep of the Astros.

David Ortiz was 8 for 15 with two homers and eight RBIs in that series while Dustin Pedroia went 7 for 14.

The Red Sox are 22-14 against left-handed starters as they get their first look at Brett Oberholtzer (1-0, 3.77), making his second career start and fifth appearance.

Oberholtzer's first start probably couldn't have gone much better as he struck out six and yielded three singles in last Wednesday's 11-0 victory at Baltimore.

"You certainly don't expect what we ended up getting, but to his credit he did a tremendous job attacking the strike zone against a really good hitting lineup," manager Bo Porter said.

The outing made Porter's decision to leave Oberholtzer in the rotation an easy one following the trade of Bud Norris to the Orioles. Now the 24-year-old is eager for his first home start.

"I'm excited, and I'm looking forward to it," Oberholtzer told the Astros' official website. "I'm going to pitch to my strengths and see what their weaknesses and strengths are. That's what pitching is about, making pitches at the right time."

One of the Red Sox's few weaknesses is a bullpen that ranks in baseball's bottom half with a 3.70 ERA. That unit could be short one player after left-hander Matt Thornton left Sunday's 4-0 victory over Arizona in the eighth inning with tightness in his right oblique area.

"Thornton's dealing with a little bit of a right oblique issue,'' manager John Farrell said.

Boston outscored Houston 28-10 in April with a 5-0 edge in homers.

The Red Sox could see an improved Robbie Grossman after he went 0 for 17 against them in April in games two through five of his career. The outfielder has hit safely in all seven games and gone 12 for 25 since being called up July 27 from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

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