Down. The Rays got off to a hot start this season, taking five of their first seven games and backing up some of the surprisingly high win totals some projection systems gave them prior to the season. However, they’re coming off a sweep at the hands of the Yankees, with the latest game being a late-inning comeback by New York. The Red Sox will look for that losing streak to lose seven games by Monday afternoon.
Rick Porcello vs. Chris Archer, 4/14 7:10 PM ET
The first game of the series brings us the best pitching matchup with both teams’ Opening Day starters taking the hill. Porcello has been merely good rather than the great pitcher he was last year through his first two starts. However, the control is still there in a big way and he’s been able get some strikeouts through his first couple games. He’ll look to put it together for his first great start of 2017 on Friday.
Archer, meanwhile, came into the season looking like one of the best bounce-back candidates in the entire league. He’s looked good in each of his first two starts, going at least seven innings in both while allowing two runs in each outing. The strange part is that the strikeouts haven’t really been there as they have in the past, but that’ll come. The Red Sox offense hasn’t really had that one huge game yet, and they’ll be hard pressed to put one together against Archer.
Chris Sale vs. Jake Odorizzi, 4/15 4:05 PM ET
Saturday is Sale Day, which is quickly becoming all of our favorite day of the week. There’s really not much to say about Sale at this point. He’s a monster with a seemingly never-ending repertoire. The Red Sox have abandoned his pitch-to-contact strategy, instead letting him just let loose. It’s working. Now, the Red Sox lineup just needs to get him some run support.
Once upon a time, Odorizzi was a top prospect. He came to Tampa in that now-infamous Wil Myers-for-James Shields trade, and while he’s shown off that potential in flashes the command hasn’t really been there to take that next step. That continues to be the case in the early going this year, as he’s allowed three homers through his first two starts. There’s always the potential for him to shut down any lineup in the league, but it seems like this should be the day Boston’s lineup breaks their homerless ways.
Drew Pomeranz vs. Alex Cobb, 4/16 1:35 PM ET
Pomeranz’ first start was just about as encouraging as humanly possible. He may have been left in just a bit too long (though I had no problem with the decision to bring him back out), but overall it was an extremely strong outing and was precisely what they needed to see from the lefty. The Rays are a team that can strike out in bunches, and if Pomeranz has his full repertoire working he can have a repeat performance.
Cobb was once one of the more promising young arms in all of baseball, although injuries have slowed that momentum. He came back for five starts last year after missing all of 2015, and it didn’t go well. This year represents his true comeback year, and things are looking...fine. The ERA isn’t too high, and he’s limiting walks, but the strikeouts aren’t super high and he’s allowing home runs at a high rate. He’s something of a wildcard, and no type of performance against the Red Sox on Sunday would surprise me.
Steven Wright vs. Blake Snell, 4/17 11:00 AM ET
Monday is Patriots Day, which of course means it’s the annual 11:00 AM game. For Wright, this game means we’ll see how short the knuckleballer’s memory truly is. He, of course, imploded in his last outing and lasted only 1 1⁄3 innings. Any pitcher needs to have a short memory, but it’s particularly important for a knuckleballer whose inherent skillset means they’ll get knocked around a bit. If he struggles again, it might be time to start worrying a little more about Wright.
Snell, meanwhile, is one of the more exciting young arms in the game but he still has work to do. He’s been an example of how weird early-season samples can be, as his 3.18 ERA looks good but he gets less impressive when you realize he’s walked more batters than he’s struck out. If the Red Sox can be patient against the young lefty, they can have some success. If they aren’t, well, this is a kid who has the ability to dominate any lineup even if his peripherals haven’t shown that early on.
The Rays don’t have any players on their roster that used to play for the Red Sox. However, their manager did. Kevin Cash came in to replace Joe Maddon, but before that he was a backup catcher for Boston who did not hit a lick in his time in that role. We used to root for Cash, but he is now The Enemy as the leader of the team that has taken over for the Yankees as the most hateable team for some Red Sox fans (myself included).
You can’t talk about the Rays of the last decade without talking about Evan Longoria. The face of that franchise had something of a renaissance in 2016, showing off power he hasn’t shown since his 20’s thanks to a new fly ball-oriented swing. He’s getting older, but he’s still one of those players that scares the crap out of you every time he steps in the box. He’s still never OPS’d .900, though. People forget that.
If anyone can challenge Jackie Bradley as the title for best defensive outfielder in the American League, Kevin Kiermaier might be the best bet. He does everything well out there and makes it look easy. As if that wasn’t enough, he just keeps improving with the bat. Last year, he finally took the leap to league-average thanks to some newfound patience. He’s not going to carry a lineup, but combined with his defense he’s probably the best overall player on the roster at this point.
Corey Dickerson saw the ill effects of leaving Coors last season, as his batting average on balls in play dropped precipitously as he had a disappointing year. The power is still there, though, and he’s always scary against right-handed pitching.
Steven Souza is the embodiment of this era of the Rays, through no fault of his own. When the Rays sent Wil Myers to San Diego and opted to get Souza from the Nationals instead of just taking Trea Turner from the Padres, everyone took their word for it and assumed Souza was going to be a star. If the Rays thought so, it must be true. That hasn’t worked out to this point, although he’s off to a hot start this year. The key with Souza is strikeouts. If he’s putting the ball in play this weekend, the Red Sox will be in trouble.
Alex Colomé might be the most underrated closer in baseball. He’s something of a Zach Britton-lite in that he can rack up the strikeouts while inducing ground balls. I suspect he won’t be in Tampa for the entire season, but for as long as he is the Red Sox will be in trouble if they’re trailing late in games.
It’s looking as if it’ll be a nice weekend for the Red Sox and Rays, with sunny weather basically all the way through. It might be a little chilly on Friday night, but the day games will be enjoyable to sit through, at least. Sunday figures to be the nicest day, possibly getting as high as 80 degrees. Saturday has some rain on the horizon, but that shouldn’t start until after the game is over. It’s something to keep an eye on, but they should be safe from rain outs this time around.
This series is not being played at The Trop, and that is worth celebrating.