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Series Preview: Red Sox at Rays

It’s Players Weekend down in Tampa

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation Blog

DRay’s Bay

The Opponent in one sentence

The Rays are, to their credit, much better than many people expected or even are giving them credit for, and are actually closer to a playoff spot than the Yankees are to the AL East lead.

Record

67-61

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 11, Rays 5

Trend

Up. The Rays are one of the hottest teams in baseball, having won their last five games in a streak that includes a four-game sweep over the Royals as well as a victory at Fenway. Even dating back to August 7, they are 11-5, and they are in a four-way tie for the fifth-best record in baseball over the last 30 days.

Pitching Matchups

8/24: Hector Velazquez vs. Diego Castillo, 7:10 PM ET

This is sort of a matchup of dueling bullpen days for these squads, though Velazquez isn’t quite on the same level as the Rays openers. The righty isn’t really stretched out for a full starter’s workload, though he did get up above 70 pitches in his last outing. That’s the first time he reached that benchmark since April. With Eduardo Rodriguez’ return being imminent, this could be the last turn Velazquez takes in the rotation, but he could very well be ready to go at least five innings. As for how he performs on the mound, well, we know he relied on command and weak contact. The stuff isn’t great so Velazquez is always going to walk a fine line but as long as he’s commanding the edges of the zone he should at least keep Boston in the game.

As for Castillo, he is one of the aforementioned openers and he’s not really going to be in this game for an extended period of time. The righty has generally gone between one and two innings in his outings. He pitched 2 23 scoreless innings against the Red Sox last weekend between two appearances. After Castillo, I’d expect to see old friend Jalen Beeks for the bulk of this game. At least, I expect that to be the plan. The lefty has been really good since being traded to Tampa Bay, and this role as the guy who comes in after the opener may be perfect for him. He doesn’t have to go deep through the order, instead throwing about five innings every time out. It sure worked last weekend when he tossed four scoreless innings against his old team.

8/25: Rick Porcello vs. TBD, 6:10 PM ET

At this point, I can’t sit here and tell you what to expect from Porcello in any given start. The righty has alternated between looking like his Cy Young-award winning self and his replacement-level self, and there hasn’t been much in between. The issue for him, when there have been issues, has been the long ball. If he’s keeping the ball in the park things go well, but that’s easier said than done. He’s long past the point of being a sinker-heavy, bottom-of-the-zone oriented pitcher, so when he misses it’s often in the fat part of the plate. Look for his command early on in this game if you want some sort of sign of what will come against the Rays. In four starts against the Rays this year he has a 4.13 ERA in 24 innings with 19 strikeouts and three walks.

Saturday will be another bullpen day for the Rays, though they haven’t announced who their opener will be just yet. If I had to guess I’d go with Ryne Stanek, who we saw last weekend. He has big stuff, but also control issues. As for who will get the bigger workload after the opener leaves, Ryan Yarbrough would be on schedule for that outing. The rookie lefty has been solid for the Rays this year, pitching to a 3.84 ERA with roughly average numbers across the board. He can certainly be hit, but he’s gone three straight outings spanning 11 13 innings without allowing a run.

8/26: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Blake Snell, 1:10 PM ET

Just like for Porcello, this is a pretty big start for Eovaldi against his former team. The righty hasn’t looked like the dominant force he was in his first two outings with the Red Sox. There was obviously some regression to be expected, but things have gone south very quickly. The big issue for Eovaldi seems to be batters adjusting to him the second and third times through the order. This is an issue that can sort itself out if/when he’s converted to relief for October, but in the meantime it’s a problem. The easiest solution would be to start throwing more offspeed pitches, because his last time out against the Indians showed that hitters will be aggressive against velocity when they know that’s coming. This will be a good test for him, because the Rays obviously know Eovaldi very well.

In the series finale, the Rays will send out a traditional starter, and a very good one at that. Snell has made The Leap in 2018, and the young lefty is looking like one of the most exciting young pitchers in baseball. He’s gotten his control issues in check, and with that everything else has fallen into place. Snell has simply dominated all year, pitching to a 2.07 ERA over 24 starts with a 3.32 FIP and a 2.61 DRA. The lefty racks up strikeouts and induces weak contact, and will be very tough to beat. He’s allowed more than one earned run in just one start over his last nine and twice in his last 14. The Red Sox have scored two runs off Snell this year over three starts and 19 innings.

*The rest of this post is largely copied/pasted from the series preview last week when these two teams met in Fenway.

Old Friends

Jalen Beeks, as I mentioned above, as been looking good for the Rays of late. Over his last four outings he has allowed five runs in 19 innings (2.37 ERA) with 18 strikeouts and seven walks. Dealing from the future for right now was the right move for the Sox, but Beeks can be a solid back-end starter in this league for a while.

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.

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 Rays play in a dome. Weather doesn’t exist.