Boston (69-65) still is mathematically in the American League playoff hunt, but it fell to 6 1/2 games behind the Texas Rangers for the final wild-card spot after being swept by the Houston Astros.
"We didn't pitch. That's the bottom line," Red Sox manager Alex Cora said after Wednesday's 7-4 loss to Houston. "I think since (the series two weekends ago in) New York, the starters have been grinding through it."
The Red Sox need a strong outing from left-hander James Paxton (7-4, 3.99 ERA) to help lessen the bullpen's load.
Kutter Crawford lasted 2 2/3 Wednesday against Houston, which scored 26 runs on 39 hits in the three-game set at Fenway Park.
"I know I'm probably not the only one that's frustrated with themselves," Crawford said. "As a staff, we need to be able to pitch deeper into ballgames."
Paxton looks for his first win since Aug. 10 against Kansas City when he pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings with six strikeouts.
Paxton is 4-0 with a 1.51 ERA in eight career starts versus the Royals.
Paxton has not completed five innings in back-to-back starts, allowing a combined 10 earned runs against Houston and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Red Sox managed their lone win in six games Saturday versus the Dodgers despite Paxton's season-high five walks.
Offensively, Adam Duvall is on a 10-game hit streak with extra-base hits in the last five.
Touted prospect Ceddanne Rafaela made his first career start Wednesday at shortstop and recorded his first double, RBI and run.
With Jarren Duran (left big toe sprain) now out, Rafaela also should see time in center field down the home stretch.
"Good athlete," Cora said. "You can see (Rafaela's talent), right? We saw it in spring training. We'll just keep working with him and he'll keep getting better."
The Royals have lost six straight games since posting a 4-0 win over the Oakland Athletics on Aug. 23. Their 4-1 setback to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday moved the Royals (41-94) to 53 games under .500 for the first time in franchise history.
"There's not a lot to take away," Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. "We had some pretty good pitching performances. We're obviously in a rut offensively right now. Hopefully we can reset on Friday."
Bobby Witt Jr. belted a solo shot on Wednesday to move within three home runs of becoming the first player in franchise history to achieve 30 homers and 30 stolen bases in the same season. He has 38 steals in 2023.
Witt hit .324 with nine homers and 16 extra-base hits in August.
"You just (have) to keep working, keep getting better each and every day," Witt said. "That's what we're trying to do. I know that it's not what people want to see, performance-wise. But we've got to keep champing at the bit, keep going and keep getting better."
Jordan Lyles (3-15, 6.51) earned his second consecutive win on Aug. 4 in Philadelphia before going 0-3 in his last four starts. The right-hander has pitched eight innings in two losses during that span, including Aug. 9 against the Red Sox.
Lyles worked three innings in his second-shortest outing of the season Saturday at Seattle, giving up six hits and seven runs.
Lyles is 2-3 with a 6.66 ERA in 10 career starts against Boston.
—Field Level Media