Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Evan Longoria and Matt Joyce might be out, but Ben Zobrist is around, and always dangerous at the plate. (Mandatory Credit: David Richard-US PRESSWIRE)

Baseball is back! Hey now, don't look so long in the face. The first half didn't exactly screech to a lovely halt, but it's not just the case in Boston. The Rays are pretty banged up and falling apart, too, and now these two forces are facing off in a battle of who can right the ship first.

There are whispers that Evan Longoria might be out for the year, and Matt Joyce,. after suffering a setback in his rehab before the break, won't be back for another few weeks. That has left the Rays lineup a bit thinner than usual. Boston has Jacoby Ellsbury in tow this time around, and Will Middlebrooks is returning, so things are starting to look up a bit in Boston, at least relative to how things have been going for the Rays. Don't think things have been that bad in Florida? Despite all of Boston's scuffling, the Rays are only two games up on them, and 7-1/2 back of the Yankees. They, like the Red Sox, are not in line for a wild card at the moment (although they too are close).

Game 1: Jeremy Hellickson (87 IP, 1.6 K/BB, 108 ERA+) vs. Franklin Morales (46-1/3 IP, 3.7 K/BB, 123 ERA+)

Game 2: David Price (111-2/3 IP, 2.8 K/BB, 131 ERA+) vs. Clay Buchholz (86-1/3 IP, 1.7 K/BB, 78 ERA+)

Game 3: James Shields (118-2/3 IP, 3.2 K/BB, 88 ERA+) vs. Josh Beckett (89-1/3 IP, 3.0 K/BB, 97 ERA+)

Jeremy Hellickson is back in action for the Rays after a stint on the DL, and he's the same as he's been: not a ton of strikeouts, too many walks for the punch outs he does have, too many homers allowed, but for some reason, above-average production as a starter. That's two years in a row with a batting average on balls in play fueling his success, but there might be too many negatives here for me to think it's going to last without a change in his approach, especially given how most of his success has come with runners in scoring position. He'll take on Morales, who had a dose of reality in his last start against the Yankees, but that can be said for pretty much anyone facing them these days. Sox fans should be aware of that, given how potent their own lineup is when it's actually in its full form.

Clay Buchholz is back from his esophagitis, and it's hard to remember given his season line, but he was pitching very well before the DL stint. He's been very good against the Rays this year, and the Red Sox could use a continuation of that this weekend.

James Shields against Josh Beckett is the battle of who can pitch worse than their peripherals, as both hurlers own below-average ERA+, despite better-than-average FIP.

For once, this is a series with the Rays that just might feature a somewhat equal pitching match-up, but this time around, with all the Rays injuries, Boston's lineup might be enough to offset that, especially with Jacoby Ellsbury and Will Middlebrooks both back. The Rays have a team OPS+ of 95, and that's including Joyce 153 OPS+) and Longoria (180), who aren't around for the weekend. With the Rays two games up, and competing against the Red Sox for a wild card spot, now would be a great time to take advantage of another team's injuries, for a change.

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