The two teams most figured to compete for the American League East title this season meet for the first time this year as the bottom two teams in their division. The Rays' struggles are well known, but the Red Sox haven't particularly enjoyed the season so far, either. Their offense has been below average, with a 94 wRC+, and their pitching, while not injured, hasn't always been effective, with ERAs over 6.00 from both Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront.
Don't be fooled, though. This is a competent Red Sox team. To get back into this season, the Rays will need to beat some good teams, and they might as well start well against a division rival.
Here is an interactive graph of batter-pitcher matchup projections for every game of the series. The matchup projections come from a tool I made with Jason Hanselman (Dock of the Rays) that incorporates Bojan Koprivica's research on regressing platoon splits and ZiPS projections. The grey line is at an average wOBA of .320.
Thanks to Jason's work, these projections are now park-adjusted. The overall and vs. average L/R pitchers displayed are park-neutral, and the matchup is paced in the park where it will be played.
Erik Bedard vs. John Lackey, 7:10
The splits regression thinks this is a pretty even matchup, with two strong offenses facing two average pitchers. I think that's overly optimistic. Bedard has not pitched well, and he seems to have hit a steep spot of his personal aging curve. Steamer projects him for a 4.53 FIP over the rest of the season, well below average. Lackey, on the other hand, has revitalized his career. He's struck out 25% of the batters he's faced this year while walking only 5%. Steamer projects him for a 3.81 FIP, pretty comfortably above average. My projections don't do well with pitcher aging, and I defer to the Steamer pessimism.
Chris Archer vs. Felix Doubront, 7:10
This is an interesting matchup. David Ortiz and Evan Longoria actually have virtually identical matchup projections, each over a .400 wOBA. Both pitchers are expected to be slightly worse than the average righty/lefty against opposite-handed batters.
Facing Ortiz will be a tough job for Chris Archer, who is remarkably effective against righties but less so against lefties. Effectively taking on left-handed sluggers like Oritz is a must if Archer is to become the top-of-the-rotation starter that some of us think he can, so I'll be watching his approach with interest.
Cesar Ramos vs Jake Peavy, 7:10
Do you believe that the starter version of Cesar Ramos turns David Ortiz into a below average bat? I sure don't. I'm sure Ramos will pitch inside on the big lefty without fear, as he always does, but second time through the lineup, I'm holding my breath. Meanwhile, the Sox have plenty of right-handed power bats that will likely also give Ramos trouble.
On the other side of the ball sits Jake Peavy is as tough on right-handed hitters as any pitcher in the league. The splits say that he makes Evan Longoria into a below-average hitter, and this one I do believe. Hope for bloops, hope for big games from Matt Joyce and James Loney, hope for rain.