SB Nation Blog
The opponent in one sentence
The Rays once again have a roster with a lean more towards depth than top-end talent, but it’s a formula that has worked in the past and there is, unfortuntely, little reason to doubt them in 2021 either.
Probably still a bit early for trends, but they did win two of three from the Marlins. The last game was a loss in which Rich Hill and Chris Archer both got hit around a bit. But again, too early for a trend unless it’s in the extreme in one way or the other. For example, your Boston Red Sox are trending down.
4/5: Nick Pivetta vs. Michael Wacha, 7:10 PM ET (ESPN for out of market)
The first series of the year did not go according to plan for the Red Sox, as we all know, but the pitching at least was good for the first two games. Pivetta is going to look to get the Red Sox back on that track after Garrett Richards’s blow-up on Sunday. The righty will not be making his debut with the team as Richards was, with Pivetta having made a pair of starts in 2020 before the close of the season. After not having much success at all for a couple of years with the Phillies, he did look much better late last season. The key for Pivetta is, and has always been, avoiding barrels and keeping hitters off-balance. The stuff, and specifically the fastball, is very much there. But nobody can get by with just that. If he’s keeping the ball in the yard and not giving up rockets every other at bat, he will be an effective back-end starter.
The Rays do have a team debut coming for them on Monday with Wacha making his first appearance in a Rays uniform. The former Cardinal and Met once looked like one of the better young starters in the game for the first few years of his career, but he’s struggled to get back to that over the last four years or so. Most recently he pitched with the Mets in 2020, putting up a brutal 6.62 ERA over 34 innings. Wacha generally isn’t going to miss a ton of bats — he did strike out over a batter per inning last year, but that is not in line with his career norms — but when he has good command he can be frustrating. The Rays, as most know, have a tendency to get the most out of those kinds of pitchers. Last year Wacha typically worked with a fastball that sits around 93 as well as a changeup (his best pitch) and a cutter.
4/6: Martín Pérez vs. Tyler Glasnow, 7:10 PM ET
The Red Sox finish their first turn through the rotation by handing the ball off to Pérez on Tuesday, who is of course coming back after being the most reliable pitcher on the roster a season ago. He was certainly not always perfect in 2020, but in a year where disaster was behind the corner in almost every inning a Red Sox pitcher was on the mound, Pérez was able to consistently take the ball every five days and generally not implode. As de facto ace at times last season he was totally miscast, but as a back-end arm in 2021 he should be able to hold that role quite well, especially if he continues to induce the weak contact that has become such a key part of his game over the last two seasons.
Unfortunately for Pérez, he is not matched up against another back-end arm. Instead, he is going up against the ace of the Rays staff in Glasnow. He is one of the nastiest pitchers in all of baseball, a threat to strike out double digit batters each and every time he grabs the ball. In his first start of the year against the Marlins, he struck out six over six shutout innings. More impressive was that he did not walk a batter. This has been the way to get to the righty in the past. He’s going to be tough to hit almost every time out, but he also struggles with control at points, including last year when he walked nine percent of his opponents. Look for the Red Sox to try and be patient at least early in this game until Glasnow proves he has the control for his second straight start. Look for him to throw a fastball that can get up in the high 90s along with a devastating slider and the occasional curveball.
4/7: Nathan Eovaldi vs. Ryan Yarbrough, 1:10 PM ET (YouTube exclusive broadcast)
The opening series did not go according to plan, but the Red Sox did get a good performance from Eovaldi on Opening Day on Friday. The righty didn’t go deep into the game as the Red Sox are looking to ease their injury-prone rotation into the season, but hopefully he’ll get a little more leash this time out if he looks as well as he did against Baltimore. In that start, he allowed just a run over 5 1⁄3 innings with four strikeouts and a walk. The stuff looked really crisp for Eovaldi, with his high fastball seeming impossible to both lay off and hit, and the slow breaking pitch down in the zone. If he can bring that back time after time, he should be able to keep stringing together good outings.
Yarbrough is one of the more underrated players on this Rays roster. He started his career as one of the original bulk arms to come in after an opener, which allowed him to fly under the radar. He’s been able to parlay those good performances into a full-time regular starter role these last couple of years. He’s a command-based lefty — the exact type of pitcher the Red Sox always struggle to hit — and he tossed 5 2⁄3 shutout innings in his first start of the year, striking out three and not issuing a walk. Last season he carried a 3.56 ERA in the Rays rotation. You won’t see 90 mph on the radar gun for Yarbrough, as he works off a cutter that sits in the low-80s as well as a changeup and a mid-80s two-seam.
Manuel Margot was one of the prospects that was sent to the Padres when the Red Sox acquired Craig Kimbrel. At the time, there was no clear path to the majors for Margot, who spent a couple years in San Diego before heading to Tampa prior to last season.
Rich Hill had multiple stints with the Red Sox, the last one being the year he reinvented himself and resurrected his career as a starter. He was only in Boston for a handful of starts before leaving for Oakland in free agency. This is his first season in Tampa, but the Red Sox won’t see him this time around.
Jeffrey Springs was, of course, part of last year’s bullpen. I certainly think he was a bit underrated as he made a bad first impression but looked solid after that. I certainly don’t think he’ll be elite for the Rays, but he’s in their bullpen to start the year and I can see him staying there in a middle relief role for most of the season.
Jalen Beeks went to Tampa in the trade that first brought Nathan Eovaldi to Boston. The lefty has filled in as a solid bulk guy for the Rays, but he underwent Tommy John surgery last year.
Collin McHugh never actually pitched for the Red Sox, but was signed last year before opting out of the COVID season. He’s back on the mound this year, pitching in relief for the Rays.
Notable Position Players
Brandon Lowe was the best player on the Rays last year, and for my money is the best overall player on the roster. Playing second base most days down in Tampa, the left-handed bat has some serious pop and will draw his share of walks. He will succumb to the swing and miss at times so that’s the best way to beat him.
Randy Arozarena was the star of the postseason last year, hitting home runs in seemingly every at bat. He’s not going to stay that good, of course, but he’ll play a big role for the Rays this year hitting in the middle of their order.
Austin Meadows looked to be a breakout star in Tampa, along with Glasnow from the same trade, in 2019 but he never quite got it going last year. I tend to look at 2019 more closely than last year, but the key will be keeping his strikeouts in check. If he does, his power is enough to get him back on the star track.
Yoshi Tsutsugo came over for his first year in the majors last season, showing off tremendous plate discipline but getting bitten badly by the BABIP bug.
Yandy Díaz can play either corner and at the plate his power can go in either direction but he has great plate discipline and generally hits the ball very hard.
Kevin Kiermaier is coming off a solid offensive season in 2020, but his game is still very much built around the defense he provides in center field.
Margot, as mentioned above, is in Tampa’s outfield these days where he provides another strong glove. He had a big opening series at the plate, but over his career has generally settled in a bit below average.
Willy Adames looked like a potential breakout last season at shortstop, though his strikeout issues could make it tough repeating that performance.
Mike Zunino is a good defensive catcher and has some serious pop, but his issues with contact make him the worst hitter in this lineup over the course of a full season.
Diego Castillo leads a Rays bullpen that annually finds elite late-inning types. He’ll be joined by Pete Fairbanks, and both bring big velocity and strikeout ability from the right side. They are missing their typical relief ace to injury, but look for this to be a very deep group as it is virtually every season.
Nick Anderson was supposed to be the closer and has been one of the game’s best over the last couple of seasons. The Rays are hoping rest and rehab will work on the partially torn UCL.
Ji-Man Choi went to get his knee checked out late in camp and underwent surgery, which will keep him out likely until about mid-May.
Yonny Chirinos underwent Tommy John surgery late last season and will be out for all of 2021.
Beeks, as mentioned above, also underwent Tommy John. He could be back late in the year, but that’s not guaranteed.
Brett Phillips went down with a hamstring issue in the middle of spring training, and will likely be out for at least another week or two.
Oliver Drake was hurt and diagnosed with a flexor strain last October, and he’ll be out for at least the first two months of this season.
Colin Poche is another Rays pitcher to have undergone Tommy John last year, likely causing him to also miss all of the season.
Ryan Sherriff isn’t injured, but he’s taking some time from baseball and has been placed on the restricted list. The exact reasoning here isn’t clear.
The weather shouldn’t really be a factor at all for this three-game set, with the forecast showing weather in the 50s all three days with minimal chances of rain getting in the way.
A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly their Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant for research.