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Red Sox at Rays Series Preview

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A look at the three-game set coming up in Tampa Bay

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

SB Nation Blog

DRays Bay

The Opponent in one sentence

The Rays have been the best team in baseball to start the 2019 season, getting top-level performances from all over the roster en route to winning every series they’ve played thus far this year.

Record

14-5

Head-to-Head Record

Red Sox 0, Rays 0

Trend

Up. The Rays haven’t been trending down since, oh I don’t know, the first half of 2018. Like I said, Tampa Bay has won all six series they’ve played thus far this year. They are rolling even with a loss to the Orioles on Thursday.

Pitching Matchups

4/19: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Ryne Stanek, 7:10 PM ET

This is a big start for Rodriguez, who is coming off far and away his best outing of this young season. Over his first two outings, we saw a lot of the frustrations that have defined his career to this point. That is, he was inefficient and fell into traps of not attacking after getting ahead in counts, and he was failing to utilize his entire arsenal. He went in the opposite direction of that last time out against Baltimore, and while playing the Orioles certainly helped things Rodriguez was outstanding. He’s going up against a red-hot lineup this time around, so if he falls back into those old habits the Rays will crush him. Look for him to get ahead in counts in the first inning or two, and then look to see how he attacks after he gets to that point.

The Rays will be using an opener for this first game of the series, with right-hander Ryne Stanek beginning the day. This has been Stanek’s main role over the last few years, though we could certainly see him later in games for the final two matchups of the series. He’s off to a strong start this year, and as long as he’s locating even solidly he’s a tough righty to hit, particularly for other righties. After he throws an inning or two, expect to see a lefty in the game for a four- or five-inning outing out of the bullpen. The Rays have two options there with Ryan Yarbrough or old friend Jalen Beeks.

4/20: Rick Porcello vs. Charlie Morton, 6:10 PM ET

Chris Sale hasn’t gotten on track just yet, but Rick Porcello is still the Red Sox pitcher struggling the most right now. The former got all of the attention with Sandy León’s return, but I expect Porcello was part of the calculus with this move as well. Over the righty’s first three starts, he’s yet to make it through even five full innings and he’s walked at least three batters each time out. That is a jarring trend for a pitcher whose two best qualities have been his ability to eat innings and limit free baserunners. His command will of course be the biggest thing to look for in this game.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Arizona Diamondbacks Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Before the Red Sox agreed to terms to bring Nathan Eovaldi back for 2019, Charlie Morton was seen as a possibility to fill Boston’s open rotation slot. The righty has seen a renaissance in his career over the last couple years with a big bump in velocity and an increased strikeout rate to go with it. He’s carrying that over this year with the Rays, though he’s also walking more batters than he did with Houston. On top of that, he’s allowing more balls in the air than ever before but hasn’t been hurt by the long ball just yet. Morton has been very good and deserves credit for suppressing home runs, but he also seems like a pitcher who could be due for regression. Unfortunately, the Red Sox lineup has shown very little to indicate they’re up to the task. Hopefully, that changes this weekend. Boston did get to Morton last year, scoring eight runs over 10 13 innings in two regular season games against him before scoring three in 2 13 innings in an ALCS matchup. So far this year, Morton has leaned most heavily on his curveball while also throwing a pair of mid-90s fastballs.

4/21: David Price vs. Tyler Glasnow, 2:10 PM ET

The bar has been set almost unfathomably low, but Price has been the most consistent starter in the Red Sox rotation to this point. He did allow four runs in each of his first two outings, but the way he got there wasn’t as distressing as what we saw from the rest of the starters. Then, in his last time out, Price was absolutely phenomenal. The lefty tossed seven shutout innings in his last start with seven strikeouts and no walks. He had tons of confidence in his fastball and cutter and was pounding the edges with that pitch. If Price hits the outside corner to righties with that cutter, he’s incredibly difficult for even the hottest of lineups to hit.

Glasnow has been one of the biggest stories in baseball to start this year, with the former Pirates prospect starting to put it all together now with the Rays. The righty has always had major control issues, but ever since getting to Tampa last summer in the Chris Archer deal he started getting better in that area. Early on this season, he’s been downright elite, walking just 1.1 batters per nine innings. This is also a guy who strikes out over a batter per inning and carries a solid ground ball rate. He’s only made four starts this year so we’re still dealing in smaller samples, but Glasnow has looked like an up-and-coming star very early in this season.

Old Friends

Jalen Beeks, as mentioned above, may make an extended appearance in Friday’s game. The southpaw was traded to Tampa last summer in the Nathan Eovaldi deal and has found a home as a long man in games where the Rays use an opener. It’s a perfect role for the lefty who many didn’t see as a viable starter in a traditional sense but also didn’t quite have the stuff to play up in a traditional relief role.

Notable Position Players

Yandy Diaz has been an incredible addition to the Rays lineup after coming over from Cleveland in an offseason trade. The third baseman has walked as often as he’s struck out while hitting for elite power early in the year. He’s also absurdly muscular.

Tommy Pham has been an on-base machine this year and like Diaz he has walked at the same rate at which he’s struck out in 2019. There hasn’t been a ton of power here, but with a .400 OBP it doesn’t matter much for a guy hitting at the top of the Rays lineup.

Austin Meadows came over from Pittsburgh with Glasnow in the aforementioned Archer trade, and the Rays are feeling very good about both right now. Meadows has been unreal to start this season, hitting for huge power, walking a bunch and cutting down on his strikeouts. He won’t stay this good, but there’s a long way to fall between his current level and even league-average.

Ji-Man Choi is getting by right now on on-base percentage and a high walk rate, but he’s yet to hit for the power we saw from him at times last year.

Kevin Kiermaier is still most known for his glove, of course, but he’s off to a hot start with the bat with surprising power early on.

Brandon Lowe is, you guessed it, another Rays hitter just demolishing the ball right now. He is striking out quite a bit, but it doesn’t matter because when he makes contact it’s blazing and going a long way.

Mike Zunino has been the rare disappointing Ray, as he’s cut down his strikeout rate but it’s come with a significant drop-off in power early on.

Avisail Garcia is hitting for solid power but the former White Sox outfielder is largely getting by with a .400 batting average on balls in play.

Wily Adames is a former A’s top prospect who has a ton of talent and has shown he’s capable of strong play up the middle, but right now his strikeout rate is still holding him back at the plate.

Bullpen Snapshot

Jose Alvarado is straight-up nasty from the left side and as long as he’s throwing strikes he seems pretty much impossible to hit. So far this year he’s striking out over 15 batters per nine innings with a walk rate just under four per nine, a ground ball rate of 69 percent, a FIP below 1.00 and he’s yet to allow a run. Other than that, it’s been pretty bad.

Tampa Bay Rays v San Francisco Giants Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Diego Castillo is the right-handed counterpart to Alvarado, and while he’s not quite as good he’s still very scary. Castillo isn’t quite the strikeout machine that Alvarado can be, but he has better stuff than his current 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings would indicate. He also is much better with his control. His ERA is not 0.00 like Alvarado’s, but instead 0.82. What a bum.

Injuries

Blake Snell was supposed to start Friday’s game, but instead he’s in the running for weirdest injury of 2019. The 2018 Cy Young winner broke his toe after dropping a granite decoration on his foot and will be out for this weekend’s series. He should be back after the Red Sox leave town, though.

Joey Wendle has been hurt since the first week of the season, but he’s in his rehab now and could return at some point during this series.

Jose De Leon underwent Tommy John surgery last year and the former top prospect is hoping to be available to the major-league squad by the middle of the year.

Matt Duffy has been battling hamstring and back injuries since spring training and is expected to be out for about another month.

Anthony Banda underwent Tommy John surgery last summer and could potentially be back for the end of this season if all goes well.

Weather Forecast

Weather doesn’t matter here, because the Rays play in a dome.