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Series Preview: Rays v Boston Red Sox

Kicking off 2018 against division rival

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There is nothing like the start to a new season. Baseball is a beautiful sport where almost anything can happen over this 162 game marathon. It all gets started today.

The Tampa Bay Rays take on the Boston Red Sox in a four game series at Tropicana Field. The Rays play the Red Sox seven times in the first week and a half so we will get to know the Boston roster pretty well.

Matchups:

Thursday 4:00 PM: Chris Sale vs Chris Archer
Friday 7:10 PM: David Price vs Blake Snell
Saturday 6:10 PM: Rick Porcello vs TBD
Sunday 1:10 PM: Hector Velazquez vs Jacob Faria

The Rays rotation isn’t the only one dealing with injuries to start the season

Only three of the Red Sox projected rotation made it to the season healthy. Fortunately for them both Chris Sale and David Price are among them. Drew Pomeranz will start the season on the disabled list with a strained flexor. Eduardo Rodriguez will start on the disabled list with a knee injury after slipping during warm ups last week.

The Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright was also placed on the disabled list after having a platelet-rich plasma injection in his knee. Wright would have been ineligible to pitch in this series after receiving a 15-game suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy. Now he’ll have to wait until returning from the disabled list before he can begin serving his suspension.

Red Sox Starters Last 3 Years

Pitcher GS IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Pitcher GS IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Chris Sale 95 649.2 31.2% 5.0% 1.03 3.21 2.89
David Price 78 525.0 24.5% 5.6% 0.94 3.26 3.26
Rick Porcello 94 598.1 20.7% 4.7% 1.29 4.17 4.02
Hector Velazquez 3 24.2 19.8% 7.3% 1.46 2.92 4.58

To start the season the Rays get the pleasure of facing one of the pitchers in discussion for best pitcher in baseball not named Clayton Kershaw. Last year Chris Sale faced the Rays six times and struck out at least dozen on four different occasions. Even though the Rays struggled against left handed pitchers, they did score four runs in two of his three starts at Tropicana Field. Facing Sale is no easy task, but maybe they’ll make more contact and scrape out a few runs.

In game two things don’t get a lot easier as the Rays faces their former Cy Young Award winner David Price. Last season Price struggled with health issues for one of the few times in his career. He managed 11 starts and 74.2 innings. It was the first time he threw fewer than 185 innings since his rookie year. Price made one start against the Rays last year and allowed two runs in six innings. He also made a scoreless two inning relief appearance.

A year after posting a 3.15 ERA and 3.40 FIP on the way to winning the 2016 AL Cy Young Award Rick Porcello had a terrible follow-up campaign. In 2017 he put up a 4.65 ERA and 4.60 FIP. The Rays helped Porcello off to a slow start last year as they put up eight runs in 4.1 innings in his third start of the year. Porcello ended up getting the better of the Rays in later match-ups, allowing only eight runs in 32.1 innings (five starts).

Hector Velazquez had a rough welcome to the league in his first career start against the Oakland Athletics. He allowed six runs in five innings. In his final seven appearances (two starts) he only allowed two runs in 19.2 innings leading to a 0.92 ERA and 3.06 FIP. Velazquez throws a low 90s fastball and the change-up is his off-speed weapon of choice.

Craig Kimbrel went back to being vintage Kimbrel last year

Red Sox Relievers Last 3 Years

Pitcher G IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Pitcher G IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Craig Kimbrel 185 181.1 41.5% 9.3% 0.79 2.38 2.27
Carson Smith 81 79.1 31.4% 7.8% 0.23 2.16 2.13
Matt Barnes 164 179.1 25.0% 9.6% 1.10 4.32 3.93
Joe Kelly 99 232.1 20.8% 9.9% 0.89 4.38 4.03
Heath Hembree 122 138.1 22.0% 7.3% 1.37 3.25 4.19

Kimbrel has been one of the best relievers in baseball since his debut with the Atlanta Braves in 2010. For most pitchers his down 2015-16 seasons would have been very good, but with ERAs and FIPs around three they aren’t what one had been accustomed to from Kimbrel. Kimbrel posted a 49.6% strikeout rate last year. Somehow that wasn’t his career best as he struck out 50.2% of batters in 2012. The Rays were particularly helpful in inflating his strikeout rate. In nine appearances Kimbrel struck out 23 of 28 batters (82.1%). Only in one outing did Kimbrel face more than three batters. In five appearances he struck out all three batters he faced.

Carson Smith missed most of the 2016 and 2017 seasons recovering from Tommy John Surgery. Last year he put up a 1.35 ERA and 1.96 FIP in 6.2 innings of work.

After an up and down career as a starter with the St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox Joe Kelly has found his home in the bullpen. In 128.1 innings of relief he has a 2.74 ERA and 3.71 FIP. His strikeout rate has climbed to 22.9% and his walk rate has fallen to 8.6%.

Bobby Poyner (LHP) and Marcus Walden (RHP) made the opening day roster without any major league experience thanks in part to Tyler Thornberg having not thrown a pitch for the Red Sox organization (minors or majors) since being traded for Travis Shaw last winter.

The Red Sox added a power bat in JD Martinez

Red Sox Batters Last 3 Years

Batter PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Batter PA HR SB BB% K% AVE OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
JD Martinez 1663 105 8 9.3% 26.1% 0.296 0.363 0.58 0.393 147
Mookie Betts 2096 73 73 8.2% 11.5% 0.292 0.35 0.492 0.357 122
Rafael Devers 240 10 3 7.5% 23.8% 0.284 0.338 0.482 0.344 111
Jackie Bradley Jr. 1432 53 20 9.6% 23.5% 0.255 0.337 0.456 0.339 109
Xander Bogaerts 2008 38 38 7.3% 16.9% 0.296 0.352 0.424 0.336 107
Andrew Benintendi 776 22 21 10.3% 17.7% 0.274 0.353 0.432 0.336 106
Hanley Ramirez 1603 72 16 8.2% 19.2% 0.261 0.328 0.457 0.334 106
Eduardo Nunez 1290 32 72 4.6% 13.3% 0.296 0.332 0.443 0.331 106
Mitch Moreland 1594 67 2 7.8% 22.0% 0.252 0.319 0.449 0.327 100
Blake Swihart 390 5 4 7.9% 24.9% 0.27 0.33 0.383 0.314 93
Brock Holt 997 9 14 9.2% 19.0% 0.259 0.333 0.359 0.306 88
Sandy Leon 712 14 0 7.7% 23.6% 0.251 0.312 0.375 0.298 81
Christian Vazquez 529 6 7 5.1% 19.5% 0.268 0.312 0.371 0.297 79

Last year balls were flying out of ballparks across the country. This was not the case for the Red Sox offense that hit the fewest homers in the American League (168) and only bested three National League clubs (Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, and San Francisco Giants).

This season they looked to add thump to their lineup and found their man in free agent JD Martinez. They signed versatile infielder Eduardo Nunez to help fill the gap left by the off-season knee surgery of Dustin Pedroia, and re-signed Mitch Moreland to occupy first base.

As a whole the Red Sox offense is built around contact and speed to take advantage of the high BABIP provided by their home ballpark. Of the regulars only JD Martinez, Mitch Moreland, and Jackie Bradley Jr. have struck out more than 20% of the time.

Martinez terrorized pitchers in both leagues last year with 45 homers in under 500 plate appearances. He also put up a career best 166 wRC+.

The young but experienced core of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers provide a solid foundation for a productive offense.

The season begins

The great thing about opening day is the optimism. All teams are tied for first. We have 162 games to go. No matter what happens during this first series the roller coaster that is a MLB season should be an exciting one.