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RED SOX NOTEBOOK

Alex Cora on the Astros: ‘They’re a very complete team’

Red Sox manager Alex Cora was Houston’s bench coach last season.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora was Houston’s bench coach last season.(FILE/MICHAEL DWYER/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

When the Houston Astros arrived at Fenway Park last September, it was for the final series of the regular season and the slumping Red Sox were still trying to wrap up the American League East title.

Now the teams have changed positions. The Astros and Red Sox start a three-game series at Fenway on Friday night that’s far more important to the visiting team.

At 87-53, the Astros are tied with the Yankees for the second-best record in the American League behind the 97-44 Sox and have a 3½-game lead on the Oakland Athletics in the AL West.

The Astros were 86-54 after 140 games last season and held a 14½-game lead in the West.

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Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was Houston’s bench coach last season, sees a different team than the one he was part of.

“There were career years everywhere,” he said. “[Josh] Reddick, Marwin [Gonzalez]. Health was a big part of what happened last year. This year [Jose] Altuve got hurt. Carlos [Correa] got hurt and is not swinging the bat the way he did last year.

“The division is a tougher division than last year. Seattle has played great. Oakland, obviously, has been amazing the whole season. That repeating thing is tough. It’s not that easy. They’re still a great team. They’re a very complete team. They can beat you in a lot of ways. But we feel like we can match up with them.”

The Sox and Astros split four games in from May 31-June 3 in Houston.

Getting the best

Despite their healthy lead on the Yankees, the Sox will pitch David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Rick Porcello in the series.

Porcello will get a break after his start on Sunday night.

“There’s bragging rights there,” Cora said. “But we’re not going to make it easier on them. They’re one of the best teams in the big leagues and for how good I feel about them and the friendship and everything else, they’re in a pennant race.

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“It’s not that we owe Oakland anything. I think it’ll be good to push them . . . We’re trying to win a series.”

For Price, it will be his first start since being hit on the left wrist by a line drive on Aug. 29. The lefthander is 5-0 with a 1.94 earned run average in his last eight starts.

Price beat the Astros on June 2, allowing three runs over six innings.

Yes, he’s eligible

After Brandon Phillips belted that dramatic two-run homer to beat the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday, questions arose about his postseason eligibility because he was not added to the major league roster until Sept. 4.

Simply put, that doesn’t matter and he’s eligible for the postseason roster.

As MLB rules state, any player who is a member of the organization as of Aug. 31 — regardless of whether he was on the 40-man roster — is eligible for the postseason as a replacement for a player on the 60-day disabled list.

The Sox have four players on the 60-day disabled list — Marco Hernandez, Austin Maddox, Dustin Pedroia, and Carson Smith — and Phillips could replace any of them.

Whether Phillips would merit a spot on the roster remains to be seen. But he would be eligible.

Closing in

Mookie Betts (.3354) and J.D. Martinez (.3353) are virtually tied for the AL batting lead. Martinez trails Oakland’s Khris Davis in home runs, 40-39. Martinez leads Davis in RBIs, 115-106. Martinez has one home run in his last 15 games . . . Betts has 29 home runs and 26 steals. He could be the first (and only other) Red Sox player with a 30/30 season since Jacoby Ellsbury had 32 home runs and 39 steals in 2011 . . . The Sox have had one quality start since Aug. 19 . . . The Sox have 48 wins at home and 49 on the road. They have never had a season with 50 wins both home and away.

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Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com.