Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

It's just a two-game series, but the Red Sox could do a lot of damage to Tampa Bay's playoff hopes in it.

The Rays didn't knock the Red Sox out on their own in 2011, but they played a part, and reaped the benefits of Boston's collapse. They're now six games back of the AL East-leading Yankees, and just three games back of the second wild card spot, meaning Tampa Bay is close enough to October baseball to still get in with just a few series left in the year. Boston doesn't have to win this series, but any victories that push the Rays further away from October will likely be appreciated by many a Sox fan.

The Red Sox will feature pitching that should help them notch at least a W, too. Though, with just two games, and David Price on the hill in one of them, it might be tough. The Rays have all of eight games left, so while two games doesn't seem like much, it's one-quarter of the remainder of their season.

Game 1: David Price (195 IP, 3.3 K/BB, 147 ERA+) vs. Clay Buchholz (181-2/3 IP, 2.0 K/BB, 104 ERA+)

Game 2: Alex Cobb (124-1/3 IP, 2.7 K/BB, 89 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (194-1/3 IP, 2.4 K/BB, 88 ERA+)

Price and Buchholz always has the potential to be an impressive display of pitching from both sides. Last time around, Price gave up three runs in seven frames, with Buchholz shutting out the Rays for seven before his bullpen blew it. Consider this the bullpen's chance to make things up to Buchholz. Also, remember that Buchholz pulled himself out of his last start thanks to a sore back -- it's not supposed to be a big deal, but it merits watching, especially just one start later.

Cobb wasn't nearly as good last time out against the Sox, but he did manage to scatter his two hits and three walks over six innings, holding Boston to three runs. This quality start might not have been Price-like, but if not for the strong effort of Aaron Cook (one run in six) and the Boston bullpen (three innings, six strikeouts, no walks, one run), it could have been enough to win. This time around, he'll take on Jon Lester, who wasn't great in his last start, but overall in last 11 (since the disastrous Toronto game) has been productive for the Sox.

The Rays are pretty healthy, just like they've been as of late against Boston, with their only players on the disabled list being Robinson Chirinos and Brandon Guyer. That means their full offensive strength will be brought against the Red Sox, but at least the Sox have the pitching -- for once -- to be able to stem that.

Boston's lineup isn't healthy, but it hasn't been since the year began. You should be used to that sort of thing by now.

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