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Series Preview: Boston Red Sox @ Tampa Bay Rays

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And here we go again. All games are 7:10 PM starts.

Monday, May 24: RHP Clay Buchholz vs. RHP Wade Davis

Tuesday, May 25: LHP Jon Lester vs. RHP James Shields

Wednesday, May 26: TBA vs. RHP Matt Garza

At the risk of being cocky, I'd like to remind Red Sox fans of the season preview I contributed to the Over the Monster annual. In particular, I'll highlight one segment:

Boston and New York both have stacked rosters as well, but most projection systems have placed the Rays within a win or two of them both, well within striking distance. Sure, it will take some luck for the Rays to be able to make the playoffs, but luck is one thing that the Yankees and Red Sox cannot buy.

[...]

Don't dare count us out or you may find yourselves sitting at home come October.    

Luck doesn't just come in the form of Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) or hitting with runners in scoring position, but it also comes in the form of injuries, players performing above or below their projections, rookies playing well, everyone on your roster hitting a hot streak together, etc. The Rays have had phenomenal starts from their starting pitching, while the Red Sox have had lots of players on their roster under-perform. But hey, that's baseball. The Rays were there last year and it sucks to know your team is better than they're playing.

That said, I'm empathetic - I can understand their pain and relate - but not sympathetic. There's a big difference.

Wednesday is John Lackey's spot in the rotation, but Josh Beckett missed his normally scheduled spot on Sunday with back tightness and the Sox would like to get him back in the rotation as soon as possible. Considering how ineffective Lackey has been so far this season (5.07 ERA, 5.07 Fielding Independent Pitching), the Sox need Beckett to face the Rays if at all possible. I hate to get all melodramatic early in the season, but this series is huge for the Red Sox.  I'm not about to label it "Do or Die" - there are 118 games left in the season, for crying out loud - but this series does have the potential to tip the Red Sox's season one direction or the other. Consider:

  • If the Red Sox sweep the Rays, they'll be six games above .500 and only 5.5 games out of the division. They'd be at worst 2.5 games out of the Wild Card and possibly even closer, meaning they're effectively back in the race and rolling with momentum. The Red Sox just reclaimed their season.
  • If the Rays sweep the Red Sox, the Sox will be 11.5 games out of the division and anywhere from 2.5 to 5.5 games back from the Wild Card. They would be back to hovering around .500 and any good feelings their club had acquired over the past few weeks had just got sapped away. They'd still technically be in contention and can't be counted out, but I'd view this result as the death-knell for the Red Sox's 2010 playoff hopes.

The most likely scenario is that either the Rays or Red Sox take two of three, in which case there's a lot more ambiguity. However, even if the Sox take two games from the Rays in this series, the Rays will still have a 7.5 game lead. Oh, and the Rays currently have 8 banked wins, meaning if they play .560 ball the remainder of the way, the team will still win 98 games. Heck, playing .500 ball still gets us 91 wins right now and the Red Sox would have to play .581 ball the rest of the way to get to 92 wins.

Time is working against the Red Sox right now. Let's hammer in a few more nails to that coffin.