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Red Sox vs. Rays Series Preview

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A look ahead to a crucial three games at Fenway

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

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DRay’s Bay

The opponent in one sentence

The Rays remain the team to be in the American League East, with their typical pitching depth to go with an offense that can score in bunches.

Record

68-44

Head-to-head record

Red Sox 4, Rays 5

Trend

Up. We know the Rays had a nice time a couple of weeks ago when they swept the Red Sox and gained control of the division, but that was only the start of a hot streak. They’ve won four in a row, and looking further out they’ve taken eight of their last 10. AKA the anti-Boston streak.

Pitching Matchups

8/10: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Luis Patiño, 7:10 PM ET

When we did our roundtable last week and asked who the most important player for the Red Sox was down the stretch, Rodriguez was a very popular choice. And it makes sense. The lefty needs to step up and help stabilize this rotation that lately has been anything but stable. He’s been a bit of a rollercoaster since the break, throwing a terrific outing, then leaving early with a migraine, then getting hit all around the park before coming back out last time and shoving again. There have been some issues with efficiency throughout, and given how the bullpen is looking lately as well it would be nice to get six from him, but we’ll take an outing like the last one where he went five strong, striking out ten without allowing a run. He did get six against Tampa earlier this year, though they scored five runs (three earned) against him in that game.

Boston Red Sox v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Patiño was one of the big pieces to come back from San Diego in the trade that sent Blake Snell to the Padres last winter. One of the top pitching prospects in the game, Patiño has made seven starts in the majors this year along with two appearances out of the bullpen. Over that time he’s been solid, though there have been some cracks. While he can miss bats at a good rate — just over a batter per inning this year — the command has wavered from time to time, especially with respect home runs. He’s allowed four over his last four outings, including two his last time out. This will be the first time the Red Sox see the young righty, which can always set up for a tough day at the plate. Patiño has leaned most heavily on his fastball and slider this year, also throwing the occasional changeup and curveball.

8/11: Nathan Eovaldi vs. TBD, 7:10 PM ET

As the Red Sox have waited all year to get Chris Sale back in their rotation (which will happen this weekend, by the way), Eovaldi has emerged as the top starter for the team, even earning his first All-Star appearance. Over the course of this season, the biggest boon in his game has been his consistency, as he had never really put together two bad outings in a row. That’s a valuable thing for a team to have that kind of assurance. Unfortunately, the run ended recently with each of his last two outings coming in as duds. The first was against these Rays, who scored six runs (five earned) over 5 13 innings. More recently, Eovaldi cruised through four innings against the Jays before collapsing for seven runs in the fifth. Both the pitcher and the team desperately need a bounce back here.

The Rays have not yet announced their starters beyond the first game of this series, but right now it would appear Josh Fleming is on schedule for this start. The lefty is a bit of a throwback, not really missing a ton of bats but, when at his best, inducing a lot of weak contact. He will get into some trouble with hard contact at times and has been more average than good, but he is the kind of soft-tossing lefty that the Red Sox have had trouble with in the past. When they faced him in the last series between these two they scored three runs over five innings. Fleming throws a low-90s fastball with a cutter and a changeup.

8/12: TBD vs. TBD, 4:10 PM ET

Neither side has announced their starter for this one, but Nick Pivetta would be on normal rest if he were to make this start. The righty is coming off his best start of the season, tossing six innings of one-hit ball while keeping the Blue Jays off the board. They lost that game, but it was not his fault. That said, start-to-start, it’s really hard to know what to expect from Pivetta. When his command is even average, his stuff is typically good enough to at least keep his team in the game. On the other hand, when he’s leaving stuff over the plate, it gets rocked, and this Rays lineup can punish mistakes. The good news is he’s had success against Tampa this year, facing them three times and allowing runs in only one of them.

If the Rays stick with their current rotation, Ryan Yarbrough will get the bulk of the innings in this finale. Like Fleming, Yarbrough doesn’t rely on big velocity but rather secondaries from the left side. He’s certainly not a superstar, but he’s developed into a very solid pitcher for this Rays team. That said, he’s been on a bit of a bad run lately, allowing five runs in each of his last two starts, including one against the Red Sox, the second time Boston has put up a five-spot against the southpaw. He’s going to pound the zone, so it’s about hunting specific parts of the zone and unleashing when you get your pitch. Yarbrough will lean most heavily on his cutter while also throwing a changeup, curveball and two-seam, none of which sit over 90 mph.

Old Friends

Manuel Margot was a part of the trade that brought Craig Kimbrel to Boston all those years ago, and after some time with the Padres he was sent to Tampa Bay prior to last season. He plays mostly an everyday role.

Collin McHugh never actually played for the Red Sox as he opted out of the 2020 season, but he was under contract last season before the pandemic hit. He’s now in a relief role for the Rays.

Jalen Beeks was traded in that all-important 2018 deadline deal that brought Eovaldi to Boston. The lefty had emerged as a solid swingman, but he’s out now having undergone Tommy John late last season.

Jeffrey Springs was part of the revolving door of long relievers for the Red Sox last summer, and was dealt to Tampa Bay this past winter.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Notable Position Players

Nelson Cruz was the big addition to the Rays at the deadline and provides massive power in the middle of this lineup. While that power has been as advertised since coming to Tampa, the slugger is striking out much more often since the trade.

Austin Meadows took a step back last year, albeit in a strange season, but he looks like a core piece of this lineup yet again in 2021, hitting for power and drawing plenty of walks.

Brandon Lowe can be had with strikeouts, as he succumbs to the K nearly 30 percent of the time this season, but like Meadows he has enough power and patience to overcome the whiffs.

Wander Franco was the top prospect in the world coming into this season, and while he struggled a bit at first adjusting to the bigs, the shortstop is showing why he’s so beloved by scouts more recently. His wRC+ since the break is 116, up 50 points from his short time in the first half.

Ji-Man Choi has missed some time this year, and his power isn’t as consistent as it’s been in the past, but he still is a threat to leave the park every time, and he’s drawing a ton of walks as well.

Joey Wendle goes against the grain of much of the rest of this lineup, reyling on a contact-heavy approach that does result in some power, though more from doubles and triples than homers.

Margot is able to hover around league-average at the plate mostly due to his ability to put the ball in play in combination with his athleticism, but the lack of power limits his ceiling with the bat. He does, however, add plus defense in the outfield as well.

Kevin Kiermaier is another plus outfielder, as Red Sox fans are all too familiar with, though his lack of power has been more pronounced this year and has really hindered his performance with the bat.

Mike Zunino is having a breakout season behind the plate, managing to mask his strikeout issues with some of the best power from any catcher in the game.

Bullpen Snapshot

The Rays made an unconventional trade for a team in their position toward the deadline, dealing Diego Castillo to the Mariners. They’re able to do that because of their never-ending stream of relievers. They mix and match late in games like always, with any of a group of five relievers getting those chances. Right now, Matt Wisler seems to be the most effective, but it’s a moving target knowing just who will be brought in at what juncture of a game.

Injuries

I’m running late on this post, and there are just far too many injuries to list out individually. The big one right now is Randy Arozarena, with the rookie outfielder on the COVID protocol list. He may be able to return as soon as tonight for the opener, however, which would push Kiermaier and Margot into more of a platoon. Tampa is also missing a handful of their top relievers, most notably Nick Anderson, Peter Fairbanks and Oliver Drake, as well as their top starter in Tyler Glasnow, who will be out for the entire season. Their rotation is also missing Chris Archer and Yonny Chirinos.

Weather Forecast

It’s going to be hot and sticky at Fenway this week. That can sometimes make rain just kind of appear out of nowhere, but as of now things seem alright.


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