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Red Sox at Rays Series Preview

A look at this week’s four-game set down in Florida.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

SB Nation Blog

DRay’s Bay

The opponent in one sentence

The Rays have been one of the hottest teams in baseball in this second half, allowing them to keep a comfortable division lead despite the impossibly hot play of the Yankees.

Record

82-48

Head-to-head record

Red Sox 5, Rays 7

Trend

Up. Way up. As I said, the Rays have been one of the hottest teams in the league since the break, and that has been especially true in this second half of August. Tampa has won each of their last seven games, and going back even further they’ve won 11 of their last 12.

Pitching Matchups

8/30: Nick Pivetta vs. Luis Patiño, 7:10 PM ET (ESPN for out-of-market)

One of the criticisms for the Red Sox leading up to the deadline was the lack of help added to the rotation. But early on in August, Pivetta was helping to ease some of that concern with three straight strong outings to start the month. More recently, however, he’s taken a bit of a step back with two straight tougher outings. He’s allowed eight runs over his last two starts, going a combined just 5 23 innings in the starts. His command has been up and down all season, and it’s decidedly down right now. Facing off against a Rays lineup with plenty of power to take advantage of mistakes, working the edges is going to be even more important than normal in this start. He’s managed to pitch pretty well in all three starts he’s made against them this year, allowing three runs in one of them while not allowing any runs in the other two.

Patiño was one of the prospects to come back to Tampa Bay in last winter’s Blake Snell deal, and he’s been a permanent member of this rotation since the start of July. The young righty has shown flashes, but he’s still struggling a bit with his command. Despite a strikeout rate of over a K per inning, Patiño’s ERA sits up above 4.50 and his peripherals are right in line with the results. He hasn’t really had any true blow-up outings this month, but homers have been a bit of a problem with five long balls hit in four starts. Two of those came from the Red Sox, who scored four runs over six innings in their lone time seeing the rookie this season. Patiño has mainly been a two-pitch guy this season, leaning most heavily on his fastball and slider, with some other secondaries thrown in sparingly.

Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

8/31: TBD vs. TBD, 7:10 PM ET

Neither side has an announced starter for this second game, so we’ll keep this section short. The Red Sox, as of now, are planning on a bullpen day for Tuesday. That doesn’t seem like the best plan to yours truly, but we’ll talk more about that if that does indeed stay the plan following Monday’s series opener. As for the Rays, Ryan Yarbrough would appear to be the most likely guy to get the nod here, but that’s not official. If he does get the start, or perhaps the bulk role after an opener, it is worth noting the Red Sox have scored at least five runs off of him in each of their three meetings with the southpaw this year. But again, that’s more speculation than anything because nothing has been announced as of this writing.

9/1: Chris Sale vs. Drew Rasmussen, 7:10 PM ET

Sale has gotten an extra day between his starts every time out so far, but with no scheduled day off here the Red Sox are manufacturing the extra day with the planned bullpen day on Tuesday. That puts Sale on track for Wednesday against easily the best lineup he will have faced so far this season. He’s looked mostly great against some non-contending lineups this year, though judging by the stuff he should have been able to put up solid numbers against anyone in those starts. Tampa will be more able to take advantage of mistakes, but there’s still little reason to expect anything besides a strong outing in this game.

Rasmussen was acquired by the Rays back in May from Milwaukee, and he’s slowly been stretched out over his last few outings. He’s still only gone as many as five innings once, but the results have been solid. He’s made three straight starts, including one against the Red Sox, and he’s allowed just two runs over 13 innings of work, striking out eight and walking four. Although he will issue some walks, he’s been a tough guy to square up and he really isn’t giving up very many hits in this new role. The Red Sox should be patient to get some baserunners, but it will be the kind of day where they need to come through with runners on base. That hasn’t always been easy for them of late. Like Patiño, Rasmussen is a two-pitch guy who leans on his fastball and slider.

9/2: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Shane McClanahan, 7:10 PM ET (MLB Network for out-of-market)

Rodriguez has been a different kind of guy over his last few outings, pitching more to contact to some mixed results. He’s been able to go a little bit deeper, getting through at least six innings in two of his last three outings, but he’s also been walking on a tightrope allowing all of this contact. Tampa Bay does strike out a lot, so this should be an opportunity to find the stride he showed early in this second half. His last time facing them he allowed just two runs over 5 13 innings with eight strikeouts.

McClanahan is another top prospect in this Rays rotation and is a potential Rookie of the Year winner this year. The righty has been tremendous over 20 starts this season, racking up more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings with solid control, helping him pitch to a 3.59 ERA with slightly better peripherals. He’s been particularly hot this month, pitching to a 2.76 ERA in August and having allowed as many as three earned runs only once over those five starts. The Red Sox have seen him only once this year, at the start of August, and they were shut down for only one run over six innings. McClanahan will feature a mid-90s fastball along with a slider, curveball, and changeup.

Red Sox vs Rangers Staff Photo By Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald

Old Friends

Manuel Margot was once one of the top outfield prospects in the Red Sox organization before being sent to San Diego in the Craig Kimbrel deal. He’s since, obviously, been dealt to Tampa Bay, where he’s settled in as a mostly full-time outfielder.

Collin McHugh never actually played for the Red Sox, opting out of the 2020 season, but has emerged as a surprisingly effective bullpen piece for the Rays this summer.

Jalen Beeks was the player sent to Tampa Bay in the Nathan Eovaldi deal. He had served as a solid bulk guy, but has been out for an extended period of time after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Kevin Cash is the Rays manager, and spent some of his playing days as a backup catcher in Boston.

Notable Position Players

Nelson Cruz was the big July acquisition for the Rays, adding some veteran thump to this lineup. He has provided the power since coming to the Rays, but an increased strikeout rate and shrinking walk rate has made his overall production since the trade come in below average.

Brandon Lowe has been the best hitter in this lineup in 2021. The second baseman will strike out a fair amount, but he also draws a lot of walks and when he makes contact, it is often of the hard variety.

Austin Meadows was the best hitter in the lineup for a lot of the year, but he’s been struggling of late.

Wander Franco came into this season as the top prospect in the world, and after a tough start to his career he’s looking like the top prospect. He has a 150 wRC+ in August and has been nearly impossible to strike out.

Randy Arozarena hasn’t quite caught fire like he did last postseason, but he’s still been very good this year. Like Lowe, he does strike out a bit but makes up for it with everything else.

Joey Wendle has been red-hot lately, and at his best he will make good contact and spray it around the field for singles and doubles.

Yandy Díaz doesn’t hit for the power that his muscles would suggest, but he has tremendous plate discipline to keep his line above average.

Kevin Kiermaier has not been a factor at the plate, with his power lacking and keeping the line below average.

Mike Zunino is having a huge year at the plate, masking his high strikeout rate with a strong walk rate and bananas power numbers.

Bullpen Snapshot

The Rays, as always, pitch well out of the bullpen and do a good job of mixing and matching based on the circumstances of the game. Andrew Kittredge has been particularly dominant of late, striking out a ton of batters with tremendous command as well. The aforementioned McHugh is getting late-inning situations as well, as are JT Chargois and Peter Fairbanks. The one weakness for this group right now is that they don’t really have a great option from the left side. But still, they top all of baseball in bullpen ERA this season.

Injuries

And they are performing so well in the bullpen despite a ton of injuries there. They lost closer Nick Anderson before the season, and they have a whole lot of other possible contributors on the injured list right now as well. By my count, including Anderson, there are as many as 10 potential contributors for this bullpen on the injured list. Tampa Bay is also without Tyler Glasnow and Yonny Chirinos in the rotation, and Ji-Man Choi is missing from the lineup.

Weather Forecast

The Rays play in a dome, so it does not matter.


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