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Red Sox at Rays Series Preview

A look at this weekend’s three-game set at the Trop.

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Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

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DRay’s Bay

The opponent in one sentence

The Rays shuffle their roster around every year, but have been able to consistently build a roster that can compete in the American League East, which they are expected to do again in 2022.

Record

7-6

Trend

The Rays did hit a little bit of a snag in their second and third series, at one point dropping five of six, but they recovered this week taking two of three from the Cubs and overall have won three of their last four, all on the road.

Pitching Matchups

4/22: Michael Wacha vs. Corey Kluber, 7:10 PM ET

One of the positive surprises for the Red Sox early on in this season has been Wacha, who goes up against his former team in the first game of this three-game set. It’s only been two starts this season so obviously take any of these numbers with a grain of salt, the size of which can be your choosing, but the veteran has allowed just a single run over 9 13 innings and has struck out nine in the process. The bad news is he’s walked five across those two starts, but he’s counteracted that by allowing some of the weakest contact in baseball. His changeup in particular has been on point, and will be key in this game against a Rays team that mixes and matches based on handedness and other splits as well as any club in baseball.

Over on the other side we get a player many Red Sox fans have wanted Boston to target the last couple of offseasons in Kluber. Once one of the very best pitchers in all of baseball, injuries have derailed his career and it’s always an open question how many innings he will be able to provide in a given season. Last year with New York, he threw 80 solid innings in an injury-shortened campaign. In 2022, it’s been so far so good, with the righty making two starts and allowing two runs over 9 23 innings with nine strikeouts and four walks. It’s actually a remarkably similar line to Wacha, though all of Kluber’s walks came in his first outing. The last couple of seasons the veteran has leaned equally on his curveball, cutter, and sinker, with the latter pitch being one that opponents have taken advantage of. Look for the Red Sox to try and get into some hitter’s counts to force him to throw that pitch.

4/23: TBD vs. TBD, 6:10 PM ET

Officially we have a good old fashioned TBD vs. TBD for this game, but we are pretty sure that Garrett Whitlock is going to make his first career start for this game. The Red Sox are shuffling things around a bit right now with Tanner Houck unable to travel with the team to Toronto next week. It’s certainly not impossible, either, that Whitlock pitches well enough to stick in this role beyond this stretch, though we’ll cross that bridge when it comes. In the meantime, don’t expect a long start from Whitlock, as he’ll probably go three or four innings tops. But when he’s out there, we know what kind of stuff he brings to the table and I see little reason to expect different results here than what we’ve seen in the bullpen.

On the Tampa side, I really am not sure what their plan is here. The Rays have a number of starters on the injured list and don’t have a clear option from what I can see. My guess is we’ll see a similar strategy to what the Red Sox are doing, perhaps sending out someone like Chris Mazza or Jalen Beeks (a couple of old friends) to start what is basically a bullpen game. But that’s a total guess.

4/24: Rich Hill vs. Shane McClanahan, 1:10 PM ET (MLN Network for out-of-market)

Rich Hill will make his return from the bereavement list on Sunday after the passing of his father last week. The lefty has made two starts so far this season, having allowed seven runs in nine innings. The margin for error with Hill as a starter is just super thin at this point as basically a two-pitch pitcher, one of those pitches being a fastball that can’t crack 90 mph. His curveball does sort of act like multiple pitches as he throws it with different break and arm angles, but if the command isn’t spot on with that pitch then the fastball can’t play up, and things can go awry quickly. The expectation is that Houck will piggyback after Hill, probably starting in the fourth or fifth inning if things go according to plan.

We know the Rays seemingly have a factory on-site to produce great pitchers on a yearly basis, and McClanahan is one of the most recent examples, coming up last season and immediately impressing with a 3.43 ERA over 25 starts. He misses a ton of bats and keeps his walk rate in check, with his one weakness being hard contact against mistakes. The Red Sox have been uber aggressive at the plate this season, and that’s been a detriment for them to be sure. However, against a lefty like McClanahan that is the approach they should be taking. If they fall behind in counts, they’ll be in trouble, so they need to jump on mistakes when they get them, no matter the count. McClanahan will feature a fastball that gets into the mid-90s, a pair of breaking balls which have thus far each produced whiff rates over 40 percent, and a changeup that is getting more usage early this season.

Tampa Bay Rays v Chicago Cubs
Manuel Margot
Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Old Friends

Manuel Margot is a former Red Sox prospect who was traded before reaching the majors, having been sent to the Padres in the Craig Kimbrel deal. The outfielder eventually landed in Tampa, where he’s turned into a very solid everyday outfielder and got an extension from the Rays prior to the season.

Jalen Beeks was sent to the Rays in the middle of the 2018 season for Nathan Eovaldi, a trade that has certainly worked out well for Boston. That said, Beeks is a nice long reliever/spot starter who is missing a ton of bats early this year.

Jeffrey Springs and Chris Mazza were both traded to the Rays prior to last season after being placed on waivers, with the Red Sox getting Ronaldo Hernández and Nick Sogard in return. The two relievers are both solid arms for the Rays bullpen.

Javy Guerra is a former shortstop prospect in the Red Sox system who has since converted to pitching and was just recently claimed off waivers by the Rays.

Notable Position Players

Wander Franco is, for all the talk about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Rafael Devers, the best young player in this division. While he lacks their top-end power, Franco plays a premium position well and has as good of an approach and hit tool as there is among young players in the game this side of Juan Soto.

Randy Arozarena is the other part of this young two-person core for the Rays lineup that should be together for a long time if the Rays ownership decides to act like a major-league ownership group. He strikes out a bit more than Franco, but he’s got a power/speed combination that plays very well in the outfield.

Brandon Lowe is an extremely underrated player and one of the best all-around second basemen in the game, counteracting high strikeout rates with big power and a great eye at the plate.

Ji-Man Choi is largely a platoon player, but against righties he’s another three true outcome player with high strikeout rates, but also big power and a high walk rate.

Margot is off to a hot start this season, but he’s largely a slightly-below-average hitter with great defense in the outfield, which will play as a starter.

Josh Lowe is a top prospect for the Rays who got a lineup spot after they traded Austin Meadows, and he’s another three true outcome guy with some speed to add on as well.

Baltimore Orioles v Tampa Bay Rays
Josh Lowe
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Yandy Díaz is perhaps the most jacked man in baseball, but he actually doesn’t hit for much power, instead relying on his on-base ability to stay in the lineup.

Kevin Kiermaier had a bit of a resurgence at the plate last season, but he’s off to a slow start in 2022 and is mostly a glove-first player.

Mike Zunino was somewhat quietly one of the best catchers in the game last season with his big power and good defense, but his contact issues always make him a wildcard at the plate.

Bullpen Snapshot

We know the deal with the Rays bullpen by this point, right? Most of the time I list out the few key relievers to know in a given bullpen, but with Tampa it’s about the collection. They are not only great at finding big-time talent for the bullpen, but also are masters at diversifying the group not just based on handedness, but on repertoires and arm angles and a host of other subtle differences that make them a matchup nightmare.

Injuries

Tyler Glasnow looked to be the Rays future ace after coming over in the now-infamous Chris Archer deal, but after undergoing Tommy John late last summer he’s likely going to miss all or most of this season.

Shane Baz was another part of that Archer deal (along with Meadows), but he’s going to be out until at least June before rejoining their rotation.

Pete Fairbanks was supposed to be one of the Rays’ best relievers, but just before camp went down with a lat injury and will be out at least until June.

Luis Patiño is another great young starter, and he got hurt right at the start of the season with an oblique injury that has since landed him on the 60-day injured list.

Nick Anderson was in the best reliever in baseball conversation just a few years ago, but injuries have derailed him in recent seasons and he’ll likely be unavailable for the first half of the season.

Brendan McKay is another promising young pitcher who was put on the 60-day injured list at the start of the season and will be unavailable for quite some time.

Ryan Yarbrough hurt his groin at the start of the season, though he’s not expected to miss much time and perhaps could even be an option to return on Saturday.

Yonny Chirinos underwent Tommy John in 2020 then suffered a setback late last season, and it’s not clear when he’ll be able to return to the mound.

JT Chargois went down early in the season with an oblique injury, though he’s not expected to be out of their bullpen for too long.

Weather Forecast

It does not matter, as the Rays play in a dome. You may have heard about it.


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