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Series Preview: Red Sox at Rays

A look at the quick two-game set down in Tampa.

MLB: AUG 02 Rays at Orioles Photo by Nicole Fridling/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

DRay’s Bay

The Opponent in one sentence

The Rays are one of the deepest teams in all of baseball which made them a trendy team to win a title in this weird season, but they’ve been struggling lately and find themselves under .500.

Record

4-6

Head-to-Head Record

0-0

Trend

Down. Tampa Bay got off to a good start this year, winning four in a row after dropping the season opener. They hit the road after that, though, and lost each of their last five games with two against Atlanta and three against the shocking Orioles.

Pitching Matchups

8/4: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Charlie Morton, 6:40 PM ET

The bad news is the Red Sox are coming off a sweep in New York and, sitting at just 3-7, they are entering a desperation zone with only 50 games left on the schedule. The good news is they actually have their best starter, and arguably their only viable major-league starter, on the mound for this one. Eovaldi is certainly miscast as a staff ace, but we’ve seen that he can be quite good, and he’s heading back to the place that rebuilt him in 2018. We’d still like to see a few more missed bats from Eovaldi even if that’s not entirely his game, but the command has mostly been there in his first two starts as he’s pitched to a 2.45 ERA. Phil had more on the righty over the weekend.

Morton is one-third of a dynamic trio that was supposed to carry Tampa Bay this year, but he has not had the best start to his year through two starts. To be fair he was solid in his last outing, allowing two runs over five innings to Atlanta, but in his first start he gave up six runs to the Blue Jays over just four frames. In all he has an 8.00 ERA, though the strikeouts and walks are still there at 11 and 2, respectively, over nine innings. It is worth noting, though, that he has been easier to square up and get hits against this year, both due to velocity being down on both of his fastballs as well as a lack of command on his curveball. The Red Sox should be looking for pitches to jump on against Morton on Tuesday, even if it’s early in the count.

8/5: Martín Pérez vs. Ryan Yarbrough, 6:40 PM ET (MLB Network out of market)

Pérez, to give credit where it is due, has been solid since those first two innings of his first start where he got absolutely shelled by the Orioles. He followed those two frames with three scoreless innings to finish that outing and then came back last time out and gave up only two runs over 5 23 innings. Unfortunately, he still is walking way too many batters — six in 10 23 including four in that last start — while striking out under six per nine. He did strike out five in his last outing which was nice to see, but even if he is allowing soft contact he is eventually going to get hurt if he continues to put runners on for free.

Yarbrough first really cut his teeth in this league as one of the original bulk arms to come in after the opener for Tampa Bay, but he has since pitched well enough to become a regular old starter. The lefty has never been one to blow anyone away, but he steadily put together solid numbers in his first two seasons and he’s off to a good start this year with a 1.54 ERA over his first two outings. The bad news for him and potentially good news for the Red Sox is that his peripherals don’t look great through two starts with his strikeout rate, typically a bit below-average to begin with, falling from last year and his walk rate rising. He has allowed weaker contact this year, but the .182 batting average on balls in play obviously will not be sustained as the year goes on. The lefty will lean most heavily on his cutter while also throwing a changeup, a high-80s sinker and a curveball.

Old Friends

Manuel Margot never really seemed to have a path to the Red Sox as a defense and speed first outfielder given Jackie Bradley Jr.’s presence, and so it made since he was sent to San Diego as part of the Craig Kimbrel deal. He’s carved out a solid career in the majors, though to this point that’s been as an average regular.

Toronto Blue Jays v Tampa Bay Rays
Manuel Margot
Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Jalen Beeks is another guy who has served as a bulk arm after an opener and has had some success with the Rays. His body probably won’t allow him to be a 32-start, 200-inning type starter and the consistency hasn’t quite been there early in his career, but the Rays got a nice lefty from the Red Sox a couple years ago. Of course, considering what Eovaldi did in 2018 the Red Sox will never regret that deal.

Kevin Cash is a former backup catcher for the Red Sox who is now at the helm as the Rays manager. He has quickly turned into one of the best and most respected managers in the game.

Notable Position Players

Margot is actually in a rare position for him playing in a corner since Kevin Kiemaier is still in Tampa, but at the plate he’s gotten off to a very tough start this year.

Ji-Man Choi has decided he’s a switch hitter sometimes now, which is pretty neat, and with Austin Meadows on the IL he is probably Tampa’s best hitter. That said, he’s striking out a ton early on this season.

Brandon Lowe is off to a scorching start at the top of the Rays lineup and has been an extra base machine. We’re only ten games in, but so far Lowe already has three doubles, two triples and two homers to help push his wRC+ to 187.

Hunter Renfroe was another addition from the Padres outfield along with Margot, although weirdly in different trades. At his best he is a monster power hitter, but early on this year his inability to get on base has masked any of the power.

Willy Adames sort of flies under the radar as a potential star shortstop in this league, but he has the all around skill set to do it. So far this year he has a .438 OBP, though that’s partially thanks to a .500 BABIP.

Yoshi Tsutsugo was a big bat signed from Japan this winter, but he’s having a little bit of a trouble getting into a swing of things early this season.

Yandy Díaz is one of the weirder players in the game in my eyes because he is perhaps the most muscular player in the league but also is an on-base oriented hitter.

Kevin Kiermaier is still in center field and is still known for his defense, which he recently claimed is unmatched in the game and it’s not close. Here’s hoping Jackie Bradley Jr. robs a few homers this week.

Mike Zunino can hit one out at any moment, but his inability to make contact made him borderline unplayable last year and he’s off to another brutal start this season.

Bullpen Snapshot

Nick Anderson is coming off a totally dominant season in 2019, and while he’s yet to allow a run this year he also oddly has yet to record a strikeout.

Oliver Drake and Diego Castillo are a one-two punch of late-inning righties, both of whom can strike out batters but the latter having more traditional big-time stuff.

José Alvarado is one of the toughest lefties in the league with a big fastball and frisbee slider.

Injuries

Austin Meadows tested positive for COVID and thus had the start of his season delayed, but he could be back as early as some point in this series.

Colin Poche went down with an arm injury in camp and had to undergo Tommy John surgery, which will of course keep him out the rest of the year.

Randy Arozarena missed camp for undisclosed reasons but could be ready to return to the majors within the next week or two.

Weather Forecast

The Rays play in a dome, so the weather is inconsequential.