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Red Sox at Rays Series Preview

The Red Sox head down to Florida for a four-game set.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

DRay’s Bay

The opponent in one sentence

The Rays have emerged as the clear-cut favorite in the American League East and arguably the favorite in the AL overall thanks to great depth all over the field.

Record

28-15

Head-to-head record

Red Sox 1, Rays 5

Trend

Down. The Rays were one of the hottest teams in baseball throughout the entire month of August, erasing what was a pretty rough start to their season. However, things have slowed down over the last week or so. They lost their last two against the Nationals and overall have lost three of four and five of seven.

Pitching Matchups

9/10: Mike Kickham vs. Josh Fleming, 7:10 PM ET (MLB Network for out of market)

We’ve seen a couple appearances from Mike Kickham since he was called up to join the roster, but assuming they stick with this plan — they make pitching decisions on a whim, so everything is always subject to change — this will be the lefty’s first start. He’s appeared in two games thus far and has pitched a total of five innings, allowing three runs with four strikeouts and two walks. His last time out was more effective with two scoreless innings to finish off a win against the Blue Jays.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Fleming is just another starter the Rays have been able to call up and get solid, usable innings from every five days, continuing their run of having a seemingly unlimited number of these guys year after year. The former fifth round pick has three starts under his belt in his rookie year, he’s pitched to a 3.52 ERA with 11 strikeouts and two walks over 15 13 innings. The southpaw isn’t going to blow anyone away with his stuff, but consistently striking out 17 or 18 percent of his opponents in the minors and keeping that up through three starts, but he doesn’t put runners on for free and he induces a ton of ground balls. He is coming off his toughest start so far, though, having allowed four runs to the Marlins over five innings his last time out. Fleming will offer a low-90s sinker along with a slider and a changeup.

9/11: TBD vs. Blake Snell, 6:40 PM ET

As of this writing Thursday morning, only the first game has an announced starter for the Red Sox, which is basically par for the course at this point. Every time I try to guess starters I get it wrong, but I’ll keep trying. Ryan Weber seems like the logical choice for this one. After a brutal first stint with the team, the righty has been much more solid since coming back up, having allowed more than two runs in an outing just once since July. His best outing of the year, this one coming out of the bullpen in relief, actually came earlier in the year against the Rays when he tossed six innings of shutout ball.

Snell was brought along slowly to start this season as they ramped up his workload, but he’s now at least going five innings every start, and while we haven’t seen the most dominant version of the lefty he’s been consistently solid. Well, for the most part. His last time out Snell allowed five runs (four earned), the first time over eight starts he’d allowed more than three runs in an outing. Overall, the former Cy Young has pitched to a 3.74 ERA. The strikeout rate is still elite, but he is having some mild control issues and has been killed by the long ball, having allowed eight homers in just 33 23 innings. The Red Sox always seem to have trouble against Snell and that was the case earlier this year as well when he tossed five shutout innings at Fenway. He will offer a mid-90s fastball along with a changeup, a curveball and a slider.

9/12: TBD vs. Tyler Glasnow, 6:40 PM ET

Again, TBD! This one is a little more up in the air, but it seems like the hope is that Nathan Eovaldi will be ready to make this start. I’m not optimistic because it seems like nothing has really gone according to plan with this calf injury, and there’s really no reason to rush him back at this point. It would be nice to see him back out there, of course, but I’m not counting on it. If he doesn’t go, they could either go with a bullpen game or perhaps this is when we get our first look at Nick Pivetta.

Glasnow burst onto the scene in a huge breakout year last season with the Rays after some middling seasons with the Pirates. Injuries derailed the breakout, but there were big expectations as he came back this season. However, it’s been more mediocre as the righty has pitched to a 4.35 ERA on the year. To be fair to Glasnow, most of that damage came earlier in the year, and prior to his last outing he had allowed two or fewer runs in three straight starts. That last time out, he allowed three over 5 13. One thing that is always there is the strikeouts, and there are going to be plenty of Saturday. Glasnow has a rate of nearly 40 percent this year. The difference comes down to control, and if the Red Sox can draw some free passes early in the outing they can have some success. Earlier this year, they scored five runs over four innings against the righty. Glasnow will offer a big fastball along with a curveball and the occasional changeup.

9/13: TBD vs. Charlie Morton, 1:10 PM ET

Our good friend TBD joins us again on Sunday. This is lined up to be a Martín Pérez outing. But also if Eovaldi starts they’d been trying to separate those two. I don’t know if they still care about that. I don’t know anything. I’m tired of TBD, if we’re being honest. It’s driving me nuts!

Morton missed most of the month of August with injury, but has come back to make a couple of starts as he gets ready for the postseason. Given the small sample of his overall season it’s hard to totally judge Morton this year, though it does seem he may be showing signs of age. He’s still been good, granted, but the strikeout rate is as low as it’s been since before he joined the Astros in 2017 and he’s having some issues with the long ball. His last time out he allowed three runs over five innings to the Nationals. The Red Sox did see the righty before his injury, scoring just one run over five innings of work. Morton will feature a low-to-mid-90s fastball along with a curveball, a sinker and a cutter.

Old Friends

Kevin Cash was a backup catcher for the Red Sox back in the 2000s, but he has since turned himself into one of the very best managers in baseball, deftly maneuvering a Rays roster that requires basically rolling out a different lineup every day.

Manuel Margot was part of the package that brought Craig Kimbrel to Boston and after a few years in San Diego the outfielder is in his first season with the Rays. He plays at least a few times a week in this lineup, providing good defense while also enjoying the best offensive season of his career.

Jalen Beeks was the cost for the Red Sox to acquire Nathan Eovaldi in the summer of 2018. Beeks has turned into a solid long relief arm and bulk guy for Tampa, though he’s currently on the injured list.

Notable Position Players

Brandon Lowe had put himself in the early AL MVP conversation, though he’s slowed down a bit at the plate. Even so, he’s put up a 139 wRC+ and is hitting for massive power. He also kills Red Sox pitching more than anyone in this lineup, historically speaking.

Willy Adames has actually overtaken Lowe as the Rays best player by fWAR this year and is quietly in the midst of a massive breakout. He strikes out a bunch, but he also draws walks and makes consistently loud contact while playing shortstop. That said, he also boasts a .447 batting average on balls in play, which is not going to stick around long-term.

Austin Meadows got off to a late start after a COVID-related delay to his season, and he’s yet to really get going. After a breakout 2019, he’s been below replacement level this season.

Joey Wendle is going to put a lot of balls in play and has been solid with about league-average production at the plate this year.

Ji-Man Choi has been a bit disappointing for Tampa this season. He’s drawing walks, but the power hasn’t been there quite as expected.

Yoshi Tsutsugo is not going to hit a lot of singles, but the rookie from Japan draws a ton of walks and when he gets hits they typically go extra bases.

Miami Marlins v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Kevin Kiermaier is always going to be known for his defense, but a high walk rate is helping him put up above-average numbers at the plate as well.

Randy Arozarena was just recently called up but the outfielder has been electric in his first eight games.

Michael Pérez has been thrust into the lineup every day due to injury, and catcher represents the one true weak spot in this lineup.

Bullpen Snapshot

Nick Anderson has missed some time with injury this year, but he’s back in Tampa’s bullpen and remains one of the very best relievers in all of baseball.

Diego Castillo and Peter Fairbanks are the two main set-up options in front of Anderson, with Castillo working around iffy peripherals for good results while Fairbanks has been able to dominate despite a bunch of walks.

Aaron Loup is the top lefty in this bullpen and is a true specialist.

Injuries

Beeks, as mentioned above, is injured. He underwent Tommy John surgery in August and will likely be out until 2022.

Yandy Díaz went down at the very end of August with a hamstring injury, and it’s not clear when he’ll be back. He should be back before the end of the year, though.

José Alvarado has been out for most of the year with a shoulder injury, but the lefty could be back at some point in the postseason.

Andrew Kittredge has been out since August with a UCL injury. He’ll miss the rest of the year, and Tommy John is still on the table.

Colin Poche underwent Tommy John right at the start of the season and will likely be out until 2022, though a late 2021 return is possible.

Yonny Chirinos is yet another Rays pitcher who underwent Tommy John this summer.

Mike Zunino went down with an oblique injury at the end of August, but could be back soon.

Oliver Drake has missed most of the year with a biceps injury, but could be back as soon as this weekend’s series.

Chaz Roe went down with an elbow injury a few weeks ago but could also be making his way back very soon.

Weather Forecast

Doesn’t matter; in a dome.