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Series Preview: Red Sox vs. Rays

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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 played themselves out of contention fairly early in the year, but they have quietly put together a solid season despite that and certainly do not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the bottom-feeders in the American League.

Record

62-59

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 9, Rays 4

Trend

Up. The Rays have been playing very well of late, and the Red Sox have to be pretty pleased with it. Tampa is coming off a series victory in New York against the Yankees, and won their previous two series against the Blue Jays and Orioles.

Pitching Matchups

8/17: Brian Johnson vs. Ryne Stanek, 7:10 PM ET

This is going to be an interesting start for Johnson, who by no means has been bad but has certainly taken a step back in his last couple of outings. Still the southpaw has allowed five runs in each of his last two starts, though he also has a scoreless relief appearance mixed in there as well. Johnson has kept his team in the game in these two starts, and his last one in Toronto was particularly better than the line. He actually looked solid throughout that outing but got hit hard at the end of his outing. Johnson has made three relief appearances against Tampa Bay this year, allowing seven runs over 4 23 innings with five strikeouts and a walk.

The Rays are handing the ball to Stanek on Friday, but he is not going to be a traditional starter. The righty has served as an “opener” for Tampa for most of the year, and the former first round pick has done well in the role. He has a big fastball and has been able to strike out over 11 batters per nine innings with a 2.45 ERA. He’s generally recorded between three and six outs in these outings, and after he is removed I would expect Yonny Chirinos to take over, but part of this opener strategy is that there is no announced plan.

MLB: Game One-Boston Red Sox at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

8/18: David Price vs. Tyler Glasnow, 7:10 PM ET

Price is looking to continue his strong run of late and keep performing like a top two pitcher and give the Red Sox confidence they have a strong 1-2 punch atop their rotation heading into October. The lefty has certainly hit some roadblocks in 2018, but he’s coming into his own of late as he learned to pitch without his former top velocity. As long as he’s able to mix in his secondaries effectively and not fall in love with his fastballs, he should continue to roll. This will be Price’s fourth outing against his former team, and he has allowed seven runs (six earned) over 25 23 innings with 25 strikeouts and ten walks.

Glasnow is a recent addition to the Rays after being acquired from the Pirates in the Chris Archer deal. The righty is a former top prospect and has always been an intriguing arm, but he was never really able to put it together in Pittsburgh. Well, the early returns with Tampa Bay suggest the Rays may have unlocked someone to bring out the best of him. We’re only talking about three starts here, but they’ve been outstanding. Over twelve innings, he’s pitched to a 2.25 ERA with 20 strikeouts and three walks. It should also be mentioned that he’s faced the Angels, the Orioles and the Blue Jays. The Red Sox will be a big test for the 24-year-old. Glasnow leans heavily on a high-90s fastball along with a curveball.

8/19: Chris Sale vs. TBD, 1:05 PM ET

Sunday is Sale Day and the Red Sox ace is looking to continue a season that has him as the American League favorite for the Cy Young. He did just spend a short time on the disabled list, but he looked great in his return last Sunday in Baltimore. The southpaw was as efficiently dominant as ever with 12 strikeouts in only five innings, but they removed him with only 68 pitches. Hopefully, he can get going in a similar fashion and they’ll give him a more normal workload, because something special was happening in that game. Sale has allowed two runs (one earned) to the Rays over 13 23 innings this year with 18 strikeouts and five strikeouts.

The Rays haven’t announced their starter for Sunday, but don’t be surprised if it’s Stanek again for another opener outing. The real intrigue could come in the second of third inning. Jalen Beeks would be in line to throw five or so innings on regular rest that day. The former Red Sox prospect who went to Tampa in the Nathan Eovaldi deal got off to a rocky start with the Rays but has looked much better of late. If would be interesting to see how he reacted to getting back to Fenway.

Old Friends

Jalen Beeks, as I mentioned above, as been looking good for the Rays of late. Over his last three outings he has allowed five runs in 15 innings (3.00 ERA) with 15 strikeouts and five walks. Dealing from the future for right now was the right move, but Beeks can be a solid back-end starter in this league for a while.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Cash is of course the former backup catcher for the Red Sox and has been the Rays manager for a few years now. With the way he’s turned things around for a respectable record this year, and for how they’ve been able to implement the “opener” strategy, I’d expect him to get a chance to turn this roster into a winner over the next year or two.

Notable Position Players

Mallex Smith has quietly turned into a really solid outfielder for the Rays and has been getting better as the year goes on. He gets on base at a high clip thanks to a good walk rate and great BABIP skills, and he also makes a big impact with his legs.

Jake Bauers is a rookie in the middle of the Rays lineup and while he won’t hit for a very high average his power comes through in a big way and makes him a threat every time he comes up.

Kevin Kiermaier has battled injury all year and has struggled at the plate when healthy, but ultimately he is at least going to provide all-world defense in center field.

Tommy Pham was a trade deadline acquisition from the Cardinals, but he hasn’t really had a chance to play since coming to his new team.

C.J. Cron never seemed like he’d be more than a league-average hitter in his years with the Angels, but he’s seeing the best BABIP luck of his career while also thriving in the power department after coming out east after an entire career on the west coast.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Duffy isn’t going to hit for much power at the top of the Rays lineup and he doesn’t draw too many walks, but he turns balls in play into hits and doesn’t strike out very much.

Joey Wendle is having a solid rookie year but much of that has come on the back of a high BABIP.

Willy Adames is not a finished product yet, but the top prospect has shown real flashes despite a high strikeout rate to start his career.

Bullpen Snapshot

Sergio Romo is surprisingly still with the Rays after not being dealt at the trade deadline, and he’s been quietly near-elite in the back of the Tampa bullpen. The righty will strike batters out and is good with control, though he can give up homers from time to time.

Jose Alvarado is the top lefty in the Rays bullpen and will be a matchup specialist for Tampa all weekend. He gets ground balls and misses bats, but he also can lose control at times.

Chaz Roe just came back from the disabled list and is the top right-handed set-up man, at least if we don’t include Ryne Stanek. Roe isn’t great in any one area but he’s good across the board.

Injuries

Jose De Leon was a top prospect who was supposed to make an impact in the Rays rotation this year, but he went down in spring training and had to undergo Tommy John surgery.

Daniel Robertson has had a good season as a part-time player for the Rays, but he went down with a hand injury a little over a week ago and isn’t expected to return.

Wilmer Font had been putting together a solid start to his Rays career before going down with a lat injury earlier in the week that could cause him to miss the rest of the year.

Vidal Nuno has been out of the Rays bullpen since the start of July but he’s getting set to start a rehab assignment.

Weather Forecast

The Red Sox and Rays should be able to get all of these games in and the weather should be mostly nice, but there are going to be some summer showers in and out of the area all weekend so a delay or two could be possible.