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Series Preview - Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox

Hello. The italics draw you in. You must preview this series. I must come up with another joke. Really. I must.

Series Notes

  • The best made plans are up in smoke in Tampa, a team which is nine games behind the Red Sox and nine games above .500. Not that nine games above .500 is bad. Indeed that record would put the Rays just four games out in the AL West, and in first place by a half game in the Central. But they don't play in either of those divisions. Though if attendance continues at this pace they might.
  • How relevant is this team? When I search for "Tampa Bay Rays" I get pictures of the Yankees. Also all their home games are broadcast on Yes2.
  • After a (pick your sportswriter term: torrid/hot/on fire) July that saw the Sox achieve a 20-6 record, the heat has dissipated in August, which is as strange a sentence to type as it is to read, let me assure you. Still, we're talking about baseball here and not weather so I can say the Sox have already lost as many games in August as they did in July (at the risk of repeating myself: 6). This:
    a) Matters
    b) Doesn't matter
    c) Leave me alone, I'm watching Game of Thrones. (At this point it should be noted that I do not know what Game of Thrones is so if it turns out it's either:
    a) a porno
    b) a toaster
    c) a board game
    ...then I apologize.
  • The Red Sox have outscored the Rays by 136 runs. According to fWAR the Sox have out-pitched the Rays this season. However, the Rays three best pitchers by far also happen to be their three starting pitchers in this series. 
  • An under-reported story this season as pertains to the Red Sox success has been their team defense. They aren't the best team, but depending on which metric you look at the Sox are either close to the top or decidedly above average. It probably won't surprise you that the Sox best defender this season has been Dustin Pedroia. Petey's been pick'n it like it's his nose and stuck in traffic driving to work.
  • Some people prefer the genius of Joe Maddon, but if given the choice I'll take Terry Francona's particular brand of controlled crazy. Nothing against Maddon, but I'll put Francona up against all comers in the Octogon Of Manager Death. (Note: I will not actually do that.) Francona has managed exceedingly effectively in a big market which is something that I feel is over blown with players, but for a guy whose job it is to deal with player personalities and a voracious media, it's vital. I don't agree with all of his in-game moves (Please stop bunting! Like forever!) but then I wouldn't agree with whomever you'd replace him with one hundred percent of the time either. Also, and this may hurt so I'm warning you, I'm not always right. 
  • Just kidding. I am always right.

Individual game notes after the jump!

Next Game

Tampa Bay Rays
@ Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, Aug 16, 2011, 1:05 PM EDT
Fenway Park

James Shields vs Jon Lester

Cloudy. Winds blowing from left to right field at 5-10 m.p.h. Game time temperature around 70.

Complete Coverage >

Game One Notes

- After sucking last year Shields has turned into a dominant force on the mound this season. Except, not really. Shields is pitching slightly better this season owning mostly to a decrease in home runs allowed but most of his peripheral stats (i.e. not ERA) are the same. He's striking out and walking guys at very similar rates and his ground ball rate is similar. Shields has dropped his BABIP significantly (from .341 to .265) likely by a combination of pitching slightly more effectively and luckity-luck-luck. The funny thing is how a guy who was dog meat last year has turned into a Cy Young contender by doing almost the same thing.

- Jon Lester is awesome. Sure he's not really a Cy Young contender and sure he's missed some time with injury but when the October lights come on, tell me who you'd rather have out there.


Next Game

Tampa Bay Rays
@ Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, Aug 16, 2011, 7:10 PM EDT
Fenway Park

Jeff Niemann vs Erik Bedard

Like above except darker.

Complete Coverage >

Game Two Notes

- Bedard represents the Red Sox only chance to out-beard the Rays. Unless you're pinning your hopes on John Lackey in which look upon this photo and despair!

- The Red Sox third most valuable pitcher this seasons is a little ball of nutty called Jonathan Papelbon. Paps has the highest K rate on the team if you don't count Rich Hill. The big story for Papelbon is his walk rate. In '09 and '10 it was over three per nine innings and in '10 it was closer to four than three. This season it's back to 1.45 which would be the lowest since 2008 and the second lowest of his career if he maintains it. If this is who he is going forward, which is admittedly the big question, the Sox can't afford to let him go.


Next Game

Tampa Bay Rays
@ Boston Red Sox

Wednesday, Aug 17, 2011, 1:35 PM EDT
Fenway Park

David Price vs John Lackey

Like above except lighter.

Complete Coverage >

Game Three Notes

- Each time Lackey pitches it seems some analyst (maybe even me, I don't know) comes out with some cherry-picked fact that makes him not look so bad. "HEY GUYZ! If you only count the innings he DIDN'T allow any runs he's AWESOME!!!! LOLZ!!!!!"

- THE TRUTH OF... oh, sorry. The truth of the matter is Lackey, for all the 'he's pitched well except for when he hasn't', hasn't pitched well this year. Fan Graphs has him valued at $4.7 million so far. But, and here's the beauty of the situation, he's still John Lackey. He's still capable of pitching like John Lackey used to pitch. Somewhere in there the real John Lackey is lurking, chewing his cud and waiting to be set free. If this free-setting happens during the playoffs nobody will be able to quote you his ERA (6.13) next season.

- David Price had some mice. The mice had lice. David Price gave his mice lice some rice. The rice was nice. Then Mike Tice ate the mice lice rice. Thrice! Crap.