Red Sox manager Alex Cora hopes to see the Astros down the road.
If the Sox can simulate some version of their offensive onslaught Thursday that’s promising for the club, particularly against Houston.
The Sox took the series finale, 12-8, helping them to avoid the sweep. They had 14 hits, including a game-tying, three-run shot by Christian Arroyo in the fifth off reliever Brandon Bielak, and a J.D. Martinez solo shot against starter Zack Greinke in the third.
When the Red Sox fell to Houston, 8-3, in Wednesday night’s contest at Fenway Park, it gave the Astros a 5-1 overall mark vs. Boston this season and cemented two series losses for the Red Sox against their American League West foe in two weeks.
Considering the fact these two teams won’t face each other again in the regular season, if the Sox and the Astros were to meet up again, it would be in an AL playoff matchup.
That, of course, will be some time in the foreseeable future. But if the Astros have shown anything in these last two series, it’s their offensive identity. They have been consistent in their approach, and in what they have tried to accomplish.
The Red Sox have shown that ability, too, but it has faded, at times.
Headed into Thursday night’s contest, Houston’s pitchers had given Red Sox batters fits, holding them to a .168 average and eight runs in five losses to the Astros, while recording 53 strikeouts and allowing just 27 hits.
“There’s been a few pitchers that we have expanded,” Cora said before the game. “One thing they do, and we talked about it in October and  is pitch to the heat maps. The red, they avoid the red, [and] go to the blue. They keep going to the blue. And if you chase here, then you’ll be in trouble. And they do that.”
The red refers to a hitter’s hot spot, while the blue indicates cold zones where a hitter struggles.
Cora has preached to his club the importance of controlling the strike zone. When they do, they are capable of being a potent offense.
Yet, heading into the seventh and final regular-season meeting against the Astros, the Red Sox led the league with a 35.5 percent chase rate. By contrast, the Astros had the sixth-lowest chase rate (28.9 percent), while leading the league in several offensive categories, including batting average (.271) and on-base plus slugging (.778). The Astros had the lowest strikeout rate at 18.1 percent.
“Honestly, I think we do a really good job of just looking for pitches that we can drive,” said Astros third baseman Alex Bregman. “And if it’s not there, it’s not there. Yeah, I think we all get caught up in trying to get pitches that are difficult pitches to hit, but the more we can take them and look for pitches we can do damage on, the better.”
Despite the Red Sox’ high chase rate, they still entered the contest tied for fifth in OPS at .746, which indicates this offense is still regarded as one of the best in baseball.
Still, expanding the zone can sometimes cause this Red Sox bunch to struggle at the plate. Pitchers living on the edges effectively can take their toll. If they hope to have a shot at postseason redemption against Houston, the Red Sox will have to correct that.
“They threw some good pitches in the two series,” Xander Bogaerts said. “They didn’t throw most balls in the middle of the zone.”
But when the Sox control the strike zone, they have proven themselves to be a lethal group.
“I think it means everything, to be honest,” Arroyo said after the game Thursday regarding controlling the strike zone. “We know we’re really talented. To come out there today and control the strike zone, I think that’s huge as hitters.”
Sawamura’s hip sore
Hirokazu Sawamura last pitched 1⅓ innings in Monday night’s 2-0 win against the Marlins. Sawamura has been steady for the Sox in his last three outings. The reliever hasn’t yielded a run in four innings pitched while striking out seven, including two vs. the Marlins.
But Cora said Sawamura has a sore hip.
He’s been sore since his last [outing],” the manager said. “We got to see where he’s at. He’ll be down today. He’s been getting treatment, all that. We’ll see how we feel about him in the upcoming days.”
Cora did not rule out the possibility of Sawamura going on the 10-day injured list.
Xander Bogaerts recorded his 952d start at shortstop for the Red Sox, enabling him to pass Nomar Garciaparra for third-most in team history . . . J.D. Martinez’s solo homer that tied the game, 3-3, in the third inning was his 13th of the season and snapped a homer-less streak of 13 games . . . The Red Sox optioned righthanded reliever Phillips Valdez to Triple-A Worcester. Valdez has a 4.24 ERA (11 earned runs in 23⅓ innings pitched) in 20 appearances this season. He yielded two runs in Wednesday night’s loss. Righthanded reliever Brandon Brennan, who was claimed off waivers on May 3 from the Mariners, was called up.