Lefty Jon Lester will start the first game of the ALDS for the Red Sox, facing a Tampa Bay Rays lineup that features a number of strong right-handed bats. For the Lester and the Red Sox the most important match up may be against the Rays top position player, Evan Longoria.
Longoria has hit Lester fairly well in the past, with a .236/.333/.527 line over 63 plate appearances. His 10 RBI against Lester are second only to Carlos Pena, and his four home runs tie him with Jose Bautista for second-most off the Sox lefty. However, Longoria's batting average and on-base percentage against Lester are both below his career levels, so within this limited sample there are elements that favor both players.
Longoria has primarily hit fourth for the Rays this season and he has also seen a large number of at bats in the third spot in the order, especially since the arrival of Wil Myers. The last time Lester faced the Rays on July 23, Longo hit third with fellow righty Myers in the cleanup spot and Joe Madden is likely to employ that strategy again. A number of the Rays righties have had success getting on against Lester, so beating Longoria at the heart of the order could very well be the key to Boston winning.
In that game, Lester was very good, allowing just two runs on seven hits while striking out eight over 6 1/3 innings. He struck out Longoria the first time through the order but the Rays third baseman got the best of him in his third at-bat, taking him deep with a solo home run into the monster seats in left-center. Those two results have been typical of the match ups between Lester and Longoria. Lester has struck out in five of the twelve times they have met this season but he has also given up two bombs. Longoria has always hit lefties for tremendous power (career .267 ISO), but Lester's ability to strike him out is a distinct advantage over other lefties.
The key for the Red Sox in this match up is execution. Lester and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia have a fairly simple plan against Longoria. Early in the count, Lester has worked almost exclusively away from Longo with his sinker and four-seamer, just occasionally coming inside with the cutter or fastball to keep him honest. If Lester gets ahead, he is then able to exploit what Chris King at Baseball Prospectus recently cited as Longoria's biggest weakness (from their incredible advanced scouting series, $$), feeding him a mix of change-ups away and curves and using his now-improved cutter both inside and as a back-door freezer. Behind in the count, Longoria can look for a fastball over the plate and that is where he typically gets the best of Lester. The July 23rd homer was on 1-0 pitch that was classified as a four-seamer, but may have been intended as a cutter low-and-in that simply didn't move or hit the right spot. A mistake like that against Longoria on Friday could turn the game in favor of the Rays.
Red Sox fans should play close attention to Jon Lester's ability to locate his fastball away since he will need that to get ahead on Rays righties like Longoria and Myers. As long as he does that well, he can executes his planand take the biggest bat in the Rays line up out of the equation. If can't put the ball where he wants, however, then Longoria will be the last player he wants to face in a big spot
Read more Red Sox:
- Rating the Narrative Matchups
- The MLBPA hates John Lackey
- 2013 Red Sox MVP debate
- Red Sox playoffs: Is Jon Lester the Game 1 starter?
- Franklin Morales: Underrated arm