Red Sox set for series opener in Houston

Worst meets first at Minute Maid Park on Monday, as the AL- leading Boston Red Sox are set to open a three-game series with the last-place Houston Astros.

Boston has notched wins in five of its last six games and currently lays claim to the top record in the American League. Monday's game kicks off a stretch that will see the Red Sox play 16 of 19 on the road.

They are coming off Sunday's 4-0 win over Arizona behind seven scoreless innings from starter Felix Doubront. It marked their major league-leading 23rd series victory of the season, although the team leads Tampa Bay by only one game in the American League East.

"We're a long way from where we want to be," right fielder Shane Victorino said. "We've got to continue to do it, not lose focus. Every game counts. We've got a tough stretch ahead of us. We've got to stay after it. We haven't gained any ground other than a half a game on Tampa. So they're still right there with us. But we're not worried about what they're doing. We control our own destiny."

The Astros are happy to return home after a 2-8 road trip.

Houston suffered its fourth consecutive loss with Sunday's 3-2 setback in Minnesota. Starter Brad Peacock allowed only four hits in seven innings, but two of those hits left the yard and that was all the cushion the Twins would need.

The Astros could certainly use another strong outing from Brett Oberholtzer, who made his big league debut against the Orioles on Wednesday and allowed only three singles over seven shutout innings. He also struck out six batters.

"I'm excited, and I'm looking forward to it," Oberholtzer said of his first home start. "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. For me, it's keeping speedy guys off base and making the power guys hit weak contact and try to eat up innings."

Red Sox starter John Lackey pitched into the seventh inning in all six of his July starts and posted a 3.67 ERA in that span. He will take the hill Monday and faced Seattle his last time out, yielding three runs on 10 hits over seven innings. He also fanned six but came away with a no-decision.

Boston leads the all-time series with Houston, 11-2.