Again? Didn't they just finish playing these guys? At least this time the series is at Fenway, where rafters will not come into play.
The Rays are one game back of the first place Orioles, and 3.5 games up on Boston. This weekend represents a chance to not only get back over .500, but to close the gap in the standings a bit. If the Red Sox take two of three from the Rays, they'll be 24-23, over .500 for the first time this season, and 2.5 back of Tampa Bay. It's not a massive jump, but given the flirtations with being over .500 in the past, and the diminished present-day state of the roster, we'll take small miracles in a three-game set.
Game 1: Alex Cobb (7 IP, 3.0 K/BB, 148 ERA+) vs. Jon Lester (57 IP, 2.0 K/BB, 104 ERA+)
Game 2: David Price (59-1/3 IP, 2.9 K/BB, 125 ERA+) vs. Josh Beckett (49-1/3 IP, 2.7 K/BB, 94 ERA+)
Game 3: Jeremy Hellickson (56 IP, 2.0 K/BB, 132 ERA+) vs. Clay Buchholz (49-1/3 IP, 1.0 K/BB, 53 ERA+)
The first two games of the series should be impressive pitcher's duels, but you know how it goes. Boston's lineup is too good to always struggle against good pitchers, as David Price knows from earlier on in the season, and Tampa Bay doesn't exactly have trouble hitting either, even without Evan Longoria. There's always a chance for runs to score, regardless of the pitcher.
Game three, on the other hand... well, we probably know how that will go. Hellickson handled the Red Sox well last time out, and Clay Buchholz hasn't handled very many teams well at all this year. The Rays, though, are one he's actually been half-decent against, at least relative to the other stinkers he's thrown onto his résumé this year.
Against the Orioles, Buchholz actually looked like he was continuing his recent trend of improvement, until he exploded in the third inning. Other than that one frame, though, he was both efficient and effective, throwing strikes consistently and keeping Baltimore's bats at bay. Problem is, like in his first start against the Rays in 2012, he had one inning just crush him and keep the start from being as effective as it could have been.
Who knows what you'll get with Buchholz this time out, as the only thing he's been consistent with this year is his inconsistency.
As for the lineups, the Red Sox are without their regular outfield -- or even their secondary outfield -- at this point. The Rays remain without Longoria, though, and have fewer bats to give up than the Sox, who seem to be curious about how many runs they can score with as few talented hitters as possible in one lineup. We get it, Boston, you've collected a lot of hitting depth. Stop showing off and stay healthy instead.