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Series Preview: Red Sox at Rays

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A look at the upcoming three-game stint in Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

DRay’s Bay

The Opponent in one sentence

After a slow start to the year the Rays have turned things around of late and are making waves with their new and somewhat controversial way of handling their pitching staff.

Record

22-23

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 6, Rays 3

Trend

Up. As I mentioned above, the Rays have turned things around lately. This is one of the hotter teams in baseball, having won six of their last seven games and seven of their last nine. They’re coming back off a long road trip in which they won each of the last two series (against the Royals and Angels), and will look to build on that momentum back home.

Pitching Matchups

5/22: Chris Sale vs. Jacob Faria, 7:10 PM ET

Sale is coming off a strange outing in which he never really had it his command. He walked four batters for the first time since joining the Red Sox, and his pitch count never stopped climbing to the point where he had to be removed after just five innings. Of course, being Chris Sale he still only allowed two runs and struck out nine batters, coming away with a win. It’s been that kind of year for the lefty where it seems as if we’ve only seen him at his best a couple of times, yet he’s still been one of the best pitchers in baseball statistically speaking. That’s pretty impressive! He faced the Rays on Opening Day, tossing six shutout innings on one hit and three walks with nine strikeouts.

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Faria has plenty of talent, but the 24-year-old righty hasn’t really lived up to it so far in his first full season of work. He’s made nine starts so far in 2018 and he’s pitched to a rough 5.20 ERA, and the peripherals don’t paint a much better pitcher. The righty’s FIP stands at 4.97 and his DRA is way up to 6.64 on the season. That being said, the ERA may not tell the whole story as he has two starts where he’s combined to allow 15 runs while allowing seven in his other seven outings. You obviously can’t just throw away the bad starts, but he’s capable of putting together strong outings as well. The Red Sox have faced Faria twice this year, scoring one run in four innings for one outing and scoring eight in just 1 23 innings in the other. He throws a low-to-mid-90s fastball along with a changeup and a slider.

5/23: David Price vs. Chris Archer, 7:10 PM ET

Trying to figure out which David Price the Red Sox are going to get in any given game is a fool’s errand at this point, but his performance moving forward is increasingly important given their next starter’s struggles. The good news is, following a week of controversy, Price was nails in his last outing. Going up against the Orioles the lefty was just a late home run away from a Maddux (complete game shutout with under 100 pitches) as his command was phenomenal. He’s still throwing almost exclusively fastball/cutter, and that’s a scary way to pitch. Unless he has the kind of perfect command he showed in his last outing, he’ll be better off if he mixes in his changeup and/or curveball enough to keep it on his opponents’ minds. Of course, if he’s locating like he did against Baltimore it doesn’t matter what he throws. Price has made three starts against the Rays this year, throwing seven shutout innings in two of them before allowing six runs (five earned) over 5 23 the last time they met.

Archer is still the de facto ace of this Rays staff, but he’s losing his grip on that position as he’s still failing to consistently live up to his potential. At his best, the righty still has some of the best stuff in baseball, but he’s never been able to put it all together. This season has been the worst of his career, as he’s not even striking out batters like he once did. With his strikeouts down and his walk and home run rates staying steady, he’s pitched to a rough 5.01 ERA on the year with a 4.31 FIP and a 5.36 DRA. The good news for him and the Rays is that he’s been better in terms of run prevention this month with a 3.04 ERA in May. The Red Sox scored four runs in six innings off Archer on Opening Day, and the righty will feature a mid-90s fastball and a slider with a changeup mixed in as well.

5/24: Rick Porcello vs. Blake Snell, 7:10 PM ET

This is a sneaky big start for Rick Porcello, who came out of the gate looking like one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball. The righty has looked a lot more human of late, however. The good news is that he’s really only had a bad start once this year, but he’s allowed three or more runs in five of his last six starts. Three runs is still keeping his team in the game, of course, but no one here would complain if he threw another scoreless gem. In three starts against the Rays this season he has a 3.10 ERA while allowing a .579 OPS over 20 13 innings.

Note: A previous version of this post had Drew Pomeranz making this start, but the Red Sox are skipping his turn in the rotation and going with Porcello.

While Archer is still viewed as the ace of the Rays staff, Snell is doing his best to take that title away. The lefty has been the best pitcher in Tampa’s rotation all year and for a time was looking like on the game’s biggest breakouts. He’s been more good than great recently, but overall he’s still pitching to an impressive 3.07 ERA with a 3.86 FIP and a 3.39 DRA. Snell will miss plenty of bats, and it’s his control that will tell the story of his day. He’s given Boston fits this year, combining to allow just two runs over 13 innings of work in two starts. The southpaw will feature a mid-90s fastball to go with a slider, a curveball and a changeup.

Old Friends

Kevin Cash is a former Red Sox backup catcher who has proven willing to go along with Tampa’s analytically-inclined front office with on-the-field strategy.

Tampa Bay Rays v Detroit Tigers Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Notable Position Players

Denard Span has been a pleasant surprise for the Rays atop their lineup despite a lack of power. The veteran is drawing more walks than strikeouts, and he’s getting on base at a .356 clip. He’s also killed the Red Sox this year.

C.J. Cron is having the best year of his career after moving out east from Los Angeles. The first baseman’s plate discipline isn’t much to be impressed with, but when he makes contact he can send it a long way.

Mallex Smith has been one of the most surprising hitters in baseball, and while his .392 batting average on balls in play will fall he has the speed to keep it higher than average while also wreaking havoc once he reaches base.

Daniel Robertson has been the Rays’ best hitter so far this year, hitting for legitimate power while also walking nearly 20 percent of the time with a solid-average strikeout rate.

Wilson Ramos is one of the better hitting catchers in all of baseball, and he’s having a solid year at the plate this season despite not hitting for the power he’s capable of.

Brad Miller got off to a slow start but he’s been looking much better at the plate in the month of May.

Christian Arroyo was the big prospect the Rays got back in the Evan Longoria deal this past winter, and he was just recently called up.

Bullpen Snapshot

Alex Colomé was looking shaky to start the year but he’s been finding the strike zone much more consistently of late and he’s now back to being one of the steadier closers in the game. He’s still not going to blow anyone away, but he misses enough bat while limiting big contact.

Sergio Romo is the second-best reliever in this bullpen, and he’s actually been starting games lately. He’s serving as a one-inning “opener” before the Rays turn to a starter from the second inning on. People certainly have some opinions on this usage.

Chaz Roe is the other right-handed set-up man in this bullpen, and he’s been solid this year as long as he’s keeping the ball in the park.

Jose Alvarado is one of the most underrated left-handed relievers in the game and you can expect to see him in some big spots all week.

Injuries

Kevin Kiermaier would be the best position player on the Rays, but he hurt his thumb in mid-April and is going to be out until mid-June, and maybe closer to the All-Star Break.

Carlos Gomez has been disappointing in the Rays outfield but he’s currently out with a groin injury. It shouldn’t keep him sidelined too long.

Adeiny Hechavarría is a glove-first shortstop and he’s been out for about a week with a hamstring injury. It shouldn’t keep him out for an extended period of time.

Yonny Chirinos was quietly performing as a solid starter for the Rays before going down with a forearm injury in late-April. They are hoping for an early-June return for the righty.

Jose De Leon underwent Tommy John surgery before the season.

Nathan Eovaldi has been out all year, but he’s working his way back and is set to make one more rehab start before the team plans to put him back in their rotation.

Weather Forecast

The Rays play in a dome, so weather doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.