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Red Sox vs. Rays Series Preivew

A look ahead to the three-game set against the Rays

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation Blog

DRay’s Bay

The opponent in one sentence

The Rays are staying in the thick of the wildcard race (three games back as I write this) thanks to an average-everywhere approach that has led to a .500 record.

Record

70-71 (9.5 games behind the Red Sox)

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 7, Rays 6

Trend

Up, slightly. Generally speaking, much like their overall year, the Rays have been hovering around .500 recently. It’s been a bit better than that, but they haven’t been going on any major win streaks. That being said, after a pretty rough stretch in the middle of August, Tampa has won four of their last five series.

Pitching Matchups

9/8: Drew Pomeranz vs. Chris Archer, 7:10 PM ET

Friday marks the best pitching matchup in this series, and it will be one of the few times this year where Pomeranz is an underdog. That has more to do with the Rays starter than anything, but the Red Sox lefty has been a little worse than usual lately. Now, part of that is because he had nowhere to go but down, but there are real concerns here. Specifically, he is starting to walk a lot of batters and is giving up a little more hard contact. For a pitcher with a history of wearing down late in the year, this is a big start for our collective confidence in the lefty heading into the postseason. In three starts against the Rays this season Pomeranz has allowed nine runs in 13 13 innings (6.08) with 19 strikeouts and ten walks. For what it’s worth, two of these starts (including one very bad one) were in the beginning of the year before his season turned around.

Archer has a tendency to give up more runs than his talent would suggest, but even with those rough starts the 28-year-old is one of the most exciting pitchers in baseball and gives his opponents fits more often than not. He is among the top strikeout pitchers in baseball while also showing off solid control. One negative from this year is a higher flyball rate, which is leading to a high home run rate without bringing with it a lower batting average on balls in play. Archer has made two starts against the Red Sox this year, allowing four runs in 12 13 innings (2.92 ERA) on 13 strikeouts and four walks. The righty features a mid-90s fastball to go with a wicked slider.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

9/10: Chris Sale vs. Matt Andriese, 7:10 PM ET

Saturday is Sale Day, the best day of the week. Obviously, there is some mild concern around Sale right now. It is my opinion that most of it is overblown, though it’s undeniably that he’s been at least a little worse of late. The bad, or at least mediocre, starts have been more consistent of late, though I wouldn’t say they’ve been consistent. Furthermore, he’s generally been able to follow up subpar outings with great ones. He’s coming off a subpar outing, so hopefully this will be a great one. In four starts against Tampa this year Sale has allowed eight runs in 29 innings (2.48 ERA) with 49 (!) strikeouts and six walks.

When healthy, Andriese has been able to put up solid results this year even if the process has been average in just about every area. He strikes out just under eight per nine innings, walks three per nine and has allowed 12 home runs in 69 innings of work. All of that is just about average, with the home run total being a little worse. Despite that, he’s pitched to a 3.78 ERA, likely largely due to some small sample size noise. He’s only made one start (and one relief appearance) since June, though, and in it he allowed five runs in five innings. Andriese allowed two runs in five innings against the Red Sox back in May in his only appearance against the team. The righty throws a low-to-mid-90s fastball to go with a changeup, a curveball and a cutter.

9/11: Rick Porcello vs. Jake Odorizzi, 1:35 PM ET

For Porcello, the 2017 season has just been a never-ending process of one step forward, two steps back. Every time it looks like he’s about to settle down and put forth a run of solid starts, he mixes in one or two really bad ones. While the righty’s season has certainly not been good, he’s actually been able to keep the Red Sox in games more often than one may think. That being said, he has to be better and is coming off an atrocious outing. He could really use a bounce back on Sunday. Porcello has allowed 16 runs (14 earned) in 24 13 innings (5.23 ERA) against the Rays this year.

Odorizzi has been pretty similar to Porcello this year, minus the disappointment of coming off a Cy Young season. He’s had a number of solid outings, but the overall numbers are bad and he’s allowing a ton of hard contact. Odorizzi is one of the most extreme flyball pitchers in all of baseball, and while that can work for some it’s just resulted in a ton of home runs and an ERA close to five for the Rays righty. He’s made two full starts against Boston this year (and one where he left after just one inning due to injury) and has allowed nine runs (eight earned) in 8 13 innings of work (8.64 ERA) with seven strikeouts and five walks. Odorizzi features a low-90s fastball to go with a splitter and a cutter.

Old Friends

Kevin Cash is the lone old friend on the Rays, and he is the manager. The former Red Sox backup catcher has done a solid job in Tampa. He doesn’t have much of a legacy in Boston, but he was here for a few years and built a strong relationship with Terry Francona.

Notable Hitters

Evan Longoria will be the face of this team for as long as he’s on the team, so it’s only fitting that he’s been an average contributor at the plate this year. He’s done nothing spectacular but also nothing notably poor. He’s been in a bit of a funk over the last month or so, particularly in the power department.

Kevin Kiermaier missed much of this year with injury, but he’s back in Tampa’s outfield. His glove is what receives the most publicity, and for good reason, but he’s no slouch with the bat either. He’s shown off big power since coming back and it doesn’t look like he’s missing any bat speed.

Logan Morrison has been Tampa’s best bat all year, and while he’s slowing down a bit in terms of batting average his power continues to be a threat every day.

Lucas Duda has suffered through an absurdly low sub-.200 batting average on balls in play since being traded to Tampa, but he’s still showing off great patience and huge power.

Steven Souza has quietly been very good for the Rays this year with his boom-or-bust style at the plate. Lately, though, it’s been more bust than boom.

Corey Dickerson is another strong bat near the top of Tampa’s lineup with an aggressive style at the plate to go with big power.

Wilson Ramos has not been impressive on the whole after missing the first few months of the year, but he’s starting to turn it on now.

Brad Miller is drawing a ton of walks this year, and that’s about it.

Adeiny Hechavarria has actually been hot with the bat of late, but he’s here because of the defense he provides at shortstop.

Bullpen Snapshot

Alex Colomé is quietly the saves leader in baseball, in what is sort of a strange turn of events. Colomé is very good, don’t get me wrong, but he’s actually taken a fairly large step back from last year in terms of strikeouts and ground balls. Still, the Red Sox will have some trouble if they are losing late in a game.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Hunter is having a career renaissance at age-31 with by far the best strikeout season of his career. This has made him a very strong setup man in the eighth inning ahead of Colomé.

Brad Boxberger has the talent to be an outstanding late-inning reliever, but inconsistency with command has held him back to being more of a middle relief arm than late inning.

Dan Jennings is the Rays’ top lefty and he relies more on weak contact than strikeouts, though he also adds some control issues to that as well.

Injuries

Colby Rasmus perhaps shouldn’t be on this list, as he’s on the restricted list rather than the DL. He had been dealing with injuries all year before deciding he needed to step away from the game for a bit. He won’t be back this year.

Jacob Faria hit the disabled list with abdominal issues in late August, but he should be back in the Rays rotation before the end of the season.

Xavier Cedeño has been out of the Rays infield all year thanks to an Achilles injury. He’s started throwing again and it looks like he could be ready to return at some point in the next week or so.

Matt Duffy has been out of the Rays infield all year thanks to an Achilles injury, and while there’s no timetable on his return he hopes he can come back at some point in 2017. Obviously, time is running out for that to happen.

Kevin Gadea was the team’s Rule 5 pick this past winter has been out all year with an elbow injury

Nate Eovaldi was signed with the knowledge that he’d miss this entire year, but he’s throwing again and should be at full strength for 2018.

Shawn Tolleson was supposed to be a strong part of Tampa’s middle relief but underwent Tommy John surgery in May.

Weather Forecast

It’s setting up to be a nice weekend in Boston, with clear weather in the forecast for all three games. There is a slight chance of rain for each game, but it is small enough that I wouldn’t worry about these games being cancelled or even delayed.