It's only been a few days since the Red Sox last faced the Rays, splitting a two-game series. There will be no splits this time, though. With the Red Sox leading Tampa Bay by just half a game in the American League wild card, whoever wins two (or three) takes the lead.It's no secret that the Rays struggled through June. After starting off with a pair of wins against the Blue Jays, the Rays took a day off, and had their season go into something of a tailspin, going 9-15 the rest of the way. The result? A drop from first place with by far the best record in baseball, down to third and hanging with the rest of the best of the league instead of standing on top.
So what went wrong with June? Simply put, the pitching. While the Rays offense was actually scoring five runs a game, the pitching was giving up almost as much (also suggesting they got a bit unlucky, too--though they had some regression in that area coming). June saw the ERAs of Matt Garza, James Shields, and Wade Davis balloon, as each allowed more than six runs per nine. Shields was particularly bad, approaching an 8.00. The relief corps was still solid, but when the starter is putting the game out of reach, it's hard for that to matter.
The Red Sox, unfortunately, will get to face only one of those three pitchers in Matt Garza--the one who traditionally dominates them. While the Red Sox got to him for six runs in May, he managed to hold them to just three in seven innings last time out, and shut them down for eight scoreless innings way back in April. The other two Rays starters--Jeff Niemann and David Price--have put up tons of scoreless innings. While both have peripherals that suggest a fair bit of luck (or, given the Rays, defense), David Price at least is definitely a strong opponent who could give the Red Sox fits all night long.
Given that the Red Sox will be returning fire with Daisuke Matsuzaka, Felix Doubront, Tim Wakefield, and a severely depleted lineup, this could be a long and painful series. But the Sox have drawn upon their own personal magic time and time again throughout this bizarre season. Let's hope they can pull it out again now, when they really need it.