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Rays vs. Red Sox Series Preview: Return to Fenway, hopefully with better results

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays head to Boston to take on the Red Sox. The Rays started the year playing seven of their first nine against the Red Sox. Assuming there is no inclement weather on the way (and reports suggest little chance of rain), once this series is over the Rays will be done with 10 of their 16 meetings. Boston travels to the Trop to play a series towards the end of May then comes back for the final series of the year at the Trop in late August.

The Rays won the matchup on opening day thanks to an eighth inning rally. Then they dropped the other six face offs. Five of the losses came by one run. The Rays are hitting much better than they were, but you can thank the likes of Chris Sale, David Price and Rick Porcello to that just as much as the Rays bats slumping.

The Rays have now won six games in a row. They have scored eight or more runs in five straight. The Red Sox started the year 17-2. They then lost three in a row, including a no hitter by Sean Manaea, but have won their last two against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Matchups:

Friday 7:10 PM: Blake Snell vs Drew Pomeranz
Saturday 4:05 PM: Yonny Chirinos vs David Price
Sunday 1:05 PM: Bullpen vs Rick Porcello

The Rays avoid Chris Sale, but the other guys are pretty good

Red Sox Starters Last 3+ Years

Pitcher GS IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Pitcher GS IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Drew Pomeranz 72 434.0 24.7% 9.2% 1.02 3.42 3.76
David Price 83 552.2 24.4% 5.8% 0.93 3.24 3.27
Rick Porcello 99 631.0 20.9% 4.6% 1.23 4.05 3.90

Missing Sale is the good news. The bad news is they still have to face Drew Pomeranz, David Price, and Rick Porcello. At least they don’t have to face a pitcher that is a top 5 pitcher in the league and has the ability to shut down the very best offenses when he’s on.

Drew Pomeranz makes his second start of the year. His first start was underwhelming as he allowed three runs in 3.2 innings while striking out seven and walking two against the Oakland Athletics. Pomeranz has put up good results when healthy over the past couple of years. Traditionally he has been very tough on lefties (.273 career wOBA). He’s still quite solid against righties (.315 career wOBA).

The Rays face David Price for the third time this year. The former Ray has gotten the best in their first two battles putting up 14 scoreless innings. Price left his third start of the year early with an injury scare after allowing four first inning runs against the New York Yankees. He made his last two starts without signs of trouble. He allowed one run over five innings to the Los Angeles Angels and was cruising against the Oakland Athletics until he allowed a three run homer to Khris Davis in the eighth inning to pick up the loss.

After a down 2017 Rick Porcello is throwing more like he did in his 2016 Cy Young campaign. He’s cranked the strikeout rate up another notch and lowered the walk rate back to his normal rate. He hasn’t allowed a homer yet, but even his xFIP is better than his 2016 total. The Rays put up three runs in 7.1 innings the last time out against Porcello but fell short.

Craig Kimbrel is still really good

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 196 191.2 41.1% 9.3% 0.80 2.30 2.32
Matt Barnes 171 178.1 25.9% 10.2% 1.01 3.94 3.80
Heath Hembree 132 150.2 22.5% 7.1% 0.13 3.29 4.05
Carson Smith 91 87.0 30.5% 8.7% 0.31 2.48 2.39
Hector Velazquez 8 16.1 16.1% 6.5% 0.00 1.10 2.86
Brian Johnson 5 7.0 31.0% 13.8% 0.00 2.57 2.32

Craig Kimbrel has an absurd 41.1% strikeout rate since the beginning of 2015. In four innings the Rays have managed one hit against him and struck out 5 of 15 chances. This is improvement on last year’s results when Rays batters struck out in 23 of 28 plate appearances over nine scoreless outings.

Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree are the relievers with experience remaining in the Red Sox bullpen.

Joe Kelly’s six game suspension for fighting with the New York Yankees Tyler Austin after being hit by a pitch in retaliation of Austin’s slide into second that clipped Brock Holt was upheld yeseterday afternoon. He began his suspension last night and will not be available for this series. The Red Sox will play a man down as he still counts against the 25 man.

Craig Kimbrel has been used heavily recently. He’s thrown in three straight games so his availability is going to be limited at list for tonight. Everybody else should be at full availability.

Mookie Betts has really taken off at the plate

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+
Mookie Betts 2196 81 75 8.4% 11.5% 0.294 0.353 0.501 0.362 125
Xander Bogaerts 2048 40 38 7.2% 16.9% 0.298 0.353 0.430 0.339 109
JD Martinez 1757 110 8 9.2% 26.4% 0.296 0.362 0.579 0.393 146
Hanley Ramirez 1695 75 19 8.3% 19.1% 0.264 0.332 0.459 0.337 108
Mitch Moreland 1648 69 2 7.8% 21.7% 0.254 0.320 0.452 0.329 102
Jackie Bradley Jr. 1516 55 22 9.6% 23.2% 0.253 0.335 0.450 0.337 107
Eduardo Nunez 1374 34 73 4.7% 13.3% 0.294 0.329 0.441 0.330 105
Brock Holt 1052 10 14 9.2% 18.4% 0.263 0.336 0.367 0.311 91
Andrew Benintendi 875 23 26 11.0% 17.5% 0.270 0.353 0.426 0.335 105
Sandy Leon 740 14 0 7.4% 23.8% 0.245 0.305 0.364 0.291 75
Christian Vazquez 600 6 7 5.0% 19.0% 0.259 0.306 0.355 0.289 74
Blake Swihart 408 5 4 7.8% 24.8% 0.266 0.325 0.376 0.309 90
Rafael Devers 343 13 4 7.9% 24.2% 0.277 0.332 0.465 0.335 106
Tzu-Wei Lin 93 0 1 14.0% 25.8% 0.266 0.370 0.342 0.322 96

The Red Sox have one of the best offenses in baseball this year. They are hitting .270/.339/.454 and putting up a 113 wRC+ good for third in MLB. They have scored 5.66 runs per game.

Mookie Betts has put up a great start hitting .329/.420/.706 and putting up a 196 wRC+ over 100 plate appearances. He’s hit eight homers and already had a three homer game.

JD Martinez is also getting going after a sluggish start. He is now putting up a 142 wRC+ and has five homers.

Xander Bogaerts is expect to be activated for tonight’s game. He wore out Rays pitching in their first two series before injuring himself sliding into the dugout. Bogaerts is hitting .368/.400/.711 and putting up a 168 wRC+ over 40 plate appearances. Let’s hope his time on the disabled list has cooled off his bat.

This Red Sox team is pitchable, but you need to be careful. You can’t let Betts and Martinez beat you. They have other guys who will get you from time to time as the lineup is deep in MLB quality bats.

Matt Duffy returns

Kevin Cash confirmed that Matt Duffy would be activated and play 3B tonight for the Rays. The Rays infield is playing well, but more good players is always better than fewer good players. They’ll figure out a way to get everyone the playing time he deserves.

This has been a fun stretch, but now it’s time to take care of business against the top teams in the division. Five of the Rays six losses to Boston were by one run. It’s time to get that extra run across and change the outlook of the division.