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Red Sox vs. Rays Series Preview

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The final matchup between division rivals.

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Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

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DRay’s Bay

The opponent in one sentence

The Rays are running away with the American League East thanks to a powerful offense and a typically deep and great bullpen that makes them perhaps the favorite to repeat as AL pennant winners.

Record

86-51

Head-to-head record

Red Sox 7, Rays 9

Trend

Down, for them at least. Tampa was the hottest team in the league for much of the back half of August, but they are stumbling just a bit to start September. Granted, they are not tanking and are still comfortable atop the division, but in a stretch that includes two losses to the Red Sox they have lost three of their last five.

Pitching Matchups

9/6: Chris Sale vs. Ryan Yarbrough, 1:10 PM ET (ESPN for out-of-market)

The Red Sox have been working very hard to get Sale an extra day of rest for all of his major-league starts coming off injury, going so far as using a bullpen day last week to push their ace back a day. But he is on normal rest for the first time this year to start off this series against the Rays. Sale has very much looked the part of ace since his return to the mound, even if he hasn’t been perfect. There have been a few too many homers — four in four starts — but the damage has been limited in each of his outings. He was able to hold this same Tampa lineup to only two runs over six innings last week despite not really having his best stuff. He only struck out three and walked two in that outing, but consistently worked his way out of trouble. He’ll be looking to miss more bats and have a more conventional win this time around.

Boston Red Sox v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Red Sox get to see Tampa Bay’s soft-tossing lefty for the second time in the span of a week, as this whole series features starters they also saw in last week’s four-game set. Yarbrough had been a bit underrated for the first three years of his career, but he’s taken a step back this season, mostly due to a spike in his home run rate. Boston did hit one homer against him last week, but also only scored two runs over six innings. That said, before that outing they’d had the lefty’s number this year, scoring at least five runs in the previous three matchups. Yarbrough is not going to feature any hard stuff, leaning most heavily on his cutter while also throwing a changeup, curveball, and sinker. None of his pitches have an average velocity higher than 86 mph.

9/7: Eduardo Rodriguez vs. Drew Rasmussen, 7:10 PM ET

Rodriguez entered a huge second half for himself and the team on a high note, but he hasn’t been totally consistent since the break. That said, he is coming off one of his best outings of the year last time out against this Rays team. In that start, the southpaw got through six scoreless innings, striking out six and only issuing a single walk. It was good to see him striking out a batter per inning in that outing as well given that his strikeout numbers had gone down in his previous two outings. We’ve said it his whole career, but the key is for Rodriguez to pitch confidently and trust his stuff. When he does that, the results are typically good.

Rasmussen is yet another pitcher the Red Sox saw just last week, with the converted reliever allowing just one run over four innings of work. The righty isn’t going to go very deep into games, making it through five just once this year, but when he is in he has been consistently effective. As a starter this year, he has pitched to a 2.45 ERA with his walk rate actually coming down in this role. Boston has seen him four times this year, twice in each role, and have failed to score more than a run off him in any of them. Rasmussen is mostly a two-pitch guy, leaning heavily on a high-90s fastball and also featuring a slider.

9/8: TBD vs. Shane McClanahan, 7:10 PM ET

I’m not entirely clear on why the Red Sox have not named a starter for this game officially, but it should be Nathan Eovaldi making the start. The Red Sox righty has been the team’s best starter all year, and he’s been particularly strong of late. Home runs have been a problem for him during this latest stretch, as he’s allowed six long balls over his last five starts. That said, he also has a 2.35 ERA over that stretch with 39 strikeouts and four walks in 30 23 innings. The first start of this stretch was against Tampa Bay, when he allowed one run over seven innings while striking out 10. But as good as the stuff has been at times, it’s the control that really puts Eovaldi over the top. If he keeps batters off the bases, a solo homer or two will not be killer.

McClanahan is a former first round pick with the kind of stuff that makes you realize why he has been so highly doubted since being drafted. That said, he is still trying to harness the stuff, which leads to some inconsistency. Overall, the numbers are certainly strong and based on his track record in 2021 there is a better chance than not that he’ll at least be solid, with a decent chance he’ll be good. The one knock against him is that the Red Sox could come into this game with confidence as they got to him last time out. When these two met last week, Boston was able to pile up eight hits over five innings to put four runs on the board. Look for them to attack these pitches and try and put traffic on the bases early to try and knock McClanahan off his rhythm. The rookie will feature a high-90s fastball along with a slider and a curveball.

Tampa Bay Rays v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

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. He’s also got a 1.043 OPS against Boston this season.

Austin Meadows was the best hitter in the lineup for a lot of the year, but his playing time has been cutting down more 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’s got a 35-game on-base streak at the moment.

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.

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, Peter Fairbanks, and the newly-added David Robertson. 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

Things should be great at Fenway this week, with very little probability of rain in all three days with sunshine in the forecast as well.


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