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Red Sox at Rays Series Preview

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A look at this week’s huge three-game series in Tampa.

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The sensation Wander Franco makes his debut against the Red Sox this week.
Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

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DRay’s Bay

The opponent in one sentence

The Rays, as they always do, are sticking around right at the top of the division with a deep and well-rounded roster.

Record

43-30

Head-to-head record

3-0

Trend

Down. Way down. The Rays have been on a miserable run of late, which has allowed the Red Sox to reclaim the top of the division despite some mediocre play in their own right. Tampa has dropped six in a row, including a four-game sweep out west against the Mariners.

Pitching Matchups

6/22: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Andrew Kittredge, 7:10 PM ET

We’ve been playing the same tune on repeat for Rodriguez over the last few weeks, and things don’t seem to be changing all that much. The lefty has just struggled to put it all together this season, missing bats at a good rate and showing solid control, but just giving up too much solid contact that is finding holes. He isn’t exactly getting crushed, but he’s also missing too many spots in the zone and major-league hitters are able to put a bat on it. There is certainly some bad luck in play, but at a certain point you can’t just keep pointing to bad luck. We’re nearing that point with Rodriguez. For example, his last time out the southpaw allowed four runs in four innings, but also struck out eight and only walked one. It’s hard to square up this recent run, but the bottom line is he needs to get deep into a game — he’s recorded more than 15 outs just twice since the start of May, and has gone six full just once in that span — and keep runs off the board. This would be the perfect time to hit that groove.

MLB: JUN 15 Red Sox at Braves Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Kittredge will be serving as an opener, with the plan likely being to get the Rays at least through Xander Bogaerts and perhaps through Hunter Renfroe before turning things over to the left-handed Ryan Yarbrough. Kittredge is killer against righties, allowing just a .429 OPS this season. As for Yarbrough, he is not going to blow anyone away with his stuff, but he has impeccable control that allows him to put up good, solid numbers year in and year out. This will be the first time Yarbrough has come in after an opener since May 12 — he had been starting games in normal fashion — and he’s also coming off his second-worst outing of the year. Last time out the southpaw allowed seven runs (five earned) to the White Sox over 6 13 innings. His worst start was actually against Boston way back in that second series of the season, with the Sox scoring nine (six earned) runs off him over five innings. He’ll feature a cutter, a changeup, a curveball, and a sinker, and we probably won’t see him get above 90 mph with any pitch on Tuesday.

6/23: Garrett Richards vs. Rich Hill, 7:10 PM ET

Richards has had something of a bizarre season. After starting off horribly, the veteran got back on track with a tremendous run, and since then has put up solid results but while constantly getting himself into trouble. That trouble did start catching up to him a bit his last time out against Atlanta, as he only tossed four innings and allowed six runs (four earned) in that time. He’ll be looking for a bounce-back, but he’ll need to find his command again to get it done. For a while he was missing the zone a bunch, leading to far too many walks, but more recently his misses have been in the zone, leading to too many hits. The Rays have the ability to grind any pitcher down, so Richards will have to be sharp or it could be another short night.

Hill is, of course, a two-time former Red Sox pitcher, with the lefty revitalizing his career in Boston with a short but phenomenal run with the team in 2015. He’s still kicking around at age 41, and holding his own in Tampa’s rotation. The southpaw was lights out for a stretch of seven starts beginning in early May, pitching to a 0.68 ERA in that run. His last two starts have brought him a bit closer to Earth, though, with four runs being allowed in each (he allowed three during that entire seven-start stretch) as the long ball started to catch up to him. Hill can still miss bats at a good rate, albeit not quite like he did just a few years ago, but his command will come and go. Look for the Red Sox to show off some patience in this one. Like Yarbrough, Hill is probably not going to be topping 90 much, and while he has a lot of secondaries he mostly relies on his fastball and curveball, with the others being mixed in just periodically.

6/24: Nick Pivetta vs. TBD, 7:10 PM ET

After a very strong six weeks to kick off the season, Pivetta has somewhat quietly reverted back into looking a lot like the guy he was in Philadelphia, though probably on the higher end of the spectrum from his time with the Phillies. The righty has been very up and down, and like Richards has found himself getting into a lot of trouble even in the starts where he put up strong results. If we go back to May 20, Pivetta has made six starts and is pitching to a 5.97 ERA, with a four-homer game against the Blue Jays really mucking up those numbers. He’s never going to show pinpoint command, but the Red Sox need him to stay around the edges and not give Tampa a chance to leave the yard, because they will if they get the chance. He did toss five shutout innings against the Rays earlier this year, walking four and striking out four.

As of this writing, there has been no official announcement for Thursday’s starter, though it would seem Michael Wacha would line up for that one. It is possible, however, that Tampa looks to go in a different direction for this start as the veteran righty has struggled of late. He’s bounced between short starts, the bullpen, and normal-length starts all year, with the latest start being part of the latter category. He allowed five runs in 3 23 innings, and it wouldn’t be a major surprise if the Rays call up a prospect (of which they have plenty) to make this start in Wacha’s stead.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Old Friends

Hill, as mentioned above, spent two stints with the Red Sox. There have been a couple of recent offseasons where he looked like a target for another potential reunion, but it’s never come to fruition.

Manuel Margot was part of the trade that brought Craig Kimbrel to Boston, and has since been traded from San Diego to Tampa. He’s settled in as a part-time outfielder, playing good defense and providing speed on the bases.

Collin McHugh never actually pitched for the Red Sox, but he did join them last season before opting out of the 2020 campaign. He is now in the bullpen for the Rays.

Jeffrey Springs was traded this past winter from Boston to Tampa for a couple of prospects. There were signs last season that he was better than the numbers suggested, and sure enough he’s quietly been a big part of this Rays bullpen.

Jalen Beeks was the player that went to Tampa back in 2018 in the Nathan Eovaldi trade, and while he’s currently hurt he had settled into a nice flex option for Tampa, showing an ability to start, come in after an opener, or pitch in a traditional relief role.

Notable Position Players

Wander Franco is where we have to start, right? The number one prospect in the world for a few years now, Franco was just called up and will make his debut whenever he gets his first bit of playing time in this series, which will presumably be in the opener. The scouting report indicates that, well, the shortstop can do pretty much everything at a high level.

Austin Meadows has come back after a tough 2020 season that saw him try to come back from COVID and is looking more like his 2019 self. He’s been the best hitter in this lineup so far this year, and will be a threat to leave the yard every time up.

Brandon Lowe has struggled to repeat his 2020 when he was the best player on the pennant-winning club. His power has just been okay, and he needs it to be great to overcome his swing and miss tendencies.

Randy Arozarena was on another planet during the playoffs last season, and while he’s come down to Earth a bit he’s still been very good this year. The plate discipline has been a bit rough around the edges, though, so the Red Sox should be trying to expand the zone against him.

Joey Wendle is an underrated part of this team, as he doesn’t really do any one thing at the plate incredibly well, but he’s good in all aspects of hitting and is having a big season as a result.

Yandy Díaz doesn’t have the power you expect from someone with his muscle, but he makes a ton of contact and draws a ton of walks, making him a pest in the lineup.

Margot, as mentioned, doesn't play every day but does get in the lineup a good amount. Offensively, he’s tough to strike out but he also doesn’t walk a ton and his power is a bit below-average.

Mike Zunino has monstrous power, and for the first time in a while that power is overcoming his swing and miss, despite striking out over 40 percent of the time this season.

Ji-Man Choi has spent some time on the IL this season, but when healthy he can provide good left-handed power in the middle of this lineup.

Bullpen Snapshot

Diego Castillo leads what is, like always, a deep and impressive group in the bullpen. He’s gotten into some trouble with home runs this year, but his stuff plays up and he is a tough matchup in the ninth inning most of the time.

Pete Fairbanks broke out in a big way last year, and is performing yet again in 2021 thanks to his ability to miss bats.

Ryan Thompson gets the most work in this entire bullpen, and while he doesn’t have huge stuff, it’s still good and his command makes up the difference.

Injuries

Tyler Glasnow just recently went down with a big injury, partially tearing his UCL. The Rays are still holding out hope he’ll be able to come back and contribute in some form late in the season, but that’s far from a guarantee.

Nick Anderson also suffered a partially torn UCL, though his was before the season. As with Glasnow, the Rays are hoping they can get him back at some point.

Chris Archer went down with a forearm injury just over a week into the season, and he’s hoping to be back on the mound in the next couple weeks.

Beeks underwent Tommy John surgery back in August of last year, and it’s most likely that he’ll miss this entire season.

Colin Poche also underwent Tommy John last summer, and like Beeks will probably miss this entire season, with an outside chance of returning late in the year.

Yonny Chirinos is yet another Rays pitcher who underwent Tommy John last summer and will miss the 2021 season.

Oliver Drake went down with a flexor strain last October, and while he should be back this year it’s still not entirely clear when exactly that will be.

Cody Reed underwent TOS surgery last month and will be out for the entire season.

Chaz Roe is trying to come back from a shoulder injury but has been shut down in his rehab twice, including just last week.

Weather Forecast

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


A big thank you to FanGraphs, and particularly their Roster Resource tool, as well as Baseball Savant for research.