With August drawing to a close, the Boston Red Sox are seeing their playoff hopes fade.
The Red Sox, who are now 6 1/2 games out of the final American League wild-card spot, will attempt to salvage the finale of a three-game series against the visiting Houston Astros on Wednesday afternoon.
In Houston's 6-2 win on Tuesday, the Astros took advantage of a Boston error in the fifth inning after back-to-back home runs by Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez in the first set the tone.
Brayan Bello was the fourth straight Red Sox starter who failed to complete five innings.
"We are where we are because we've struggled in certain areas of the game," Boston manager Alex Cora said. "It's catching up (with us) now."
Right-hander Kutter Crawford (6-6, 3.65 ERA) will look to give the Red Sox a much-needed strong start on Wednesday.
Crawford struck out seven and allowed just two runs on four hits across five innings in a no-decision against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday.
In his lone career start vs. Houston, Crawford allowed just one run on seven hits across six innings in a victory on Aug. 2, 2022.
The Red Sox, in the midst of a difficult week that also included call-up Kyle Barraclough being tagged for 10 runs on 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings on Monday, promoted top prospect Ceddanne Rafaela from Triple-A Worcester to make his major league debut.
Rafaela is the No. 3 prospect in the organization, according to MLB Pipeline.
"Obviously this is a different level, but we expect him to come in, and whenever he plays, just go out there and have fun playing center. He can play short. He can run," Cora said. "He's been hitting for power. Discipline has been a lot better the last few weeks, which is very important at this level."
Rafaela recorded his first hit in Boston's 13-5, series-opening loss on Monday but has yet to make a major league start.
Boston is also getting impressive production from center fielder Adam Duvall, who has hit seven home runs during his current nine-game hitting streak. He homered for the fourth game in a row on Tuesday.
The Astros have won four straight games, amassing 66 hits in that span to tie a franchise record. They climbed into a three-way tie for first place on Tuesday with the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers.
Though he went 0-for-4 in the Tuesday win, Michael Brantley provided a boost to the Houston lineup in his return from right shoulder surgery.
Brantley last played in the majors on June 26, 2022. He went 14-for-47 (.298) with a homer and 12 RBIs in 16 rehab games for Triple-A Sugar Land.
"It's great to have him back, he's worked hard to get back to this point," Astros manager Dusty Baker said. "He's been as patient as any man can be. He's the consummate team man, team player, team leader."
Left-hander Framber Valdez (9-9, 3.40 ERA) will take the mound for Houston in the series finale.
Valdez no-hit the Cleveland Guardians on Aug. 1 before allowing 16 runs (15 earned) on 24 hits over his next three starts, but he bounced back for seven no-hit innings on Friday in a no-decision at Detroit.
Valdez worked around five walks and a hit batter vs. the Tigers.
"That was part of my plan, just mix a lot of my pitches," Valdez said through an interpreter. "Mix them up, mix them around, try not to get predictable."
In four career appearances (two starts) against the Red Sox, Valdez is 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA.
—Field Level Media