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Rays series preview: it’s time to lose to the Red Sox

but no really let’s not lose to the Red Sox, please!

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Baltimore Orioles
Aug 2, 2020; Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jalen Beeks (68) cannot field a ground ball
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays returned from a less-than-ideal road trip, where they failed to pick up any wins, to a much needed off-day yesterday. Slumps happen, but they are going to be greatly magnified in a shortened 60 game season.

With 16 playoff teams this year, the Rays are still in a reasonably good spot since they likely don’t even need to go 30-30 to make the playoffs, but the Rays are aiming for more than that and need to get back on track. Hopefully a return to the friendly confines of Tropicana Field is what the team needs.

The offense has been a little disappointing, but their biggest weapon from last year’s team returns tonight in Austin Meadows.

Honestly, it’s the defense that has been the most disappointing. Defensive metrics have the Rays at roughly average (-1 DRS and +0.9 UZR). They should be better than average and they have made a lot of plays that have counteracted the bad ones. The pitching has been alright with a 3.76 ERA/3.59 FIP/3.67 xFIP. These are all top 10 numbers, but more is expected.

This team will only be great if it’s lead by the pitching and defense with just enough hitting. The starting rotation is still working its way into form as they build up innings and effectiveness. The bullpen should be better as they work through the players they need to cut as the roster drops to 28 later this week and eventually 26 two weeks later.

The Matchups

Tuesday 6:40 PM: Nathan Eovaldi vs Charlie Morton
Wednesday 6:40 PM: Martin Perez vs Ryan Yarbrough

The 2019 Boston Red Sox rotation is completely gone except for former Ray Nathan Eovaldi. Rick Porcello became a free agent. David Price was shipped off in the Mookie Betts trade to Los Angeles. Chris Sale unfortunately went down with Tommy John surgery during Spring Training. Eduardo Rodriguez had heart problems related to COVID and will be out for the season.

Eovaldi signed the big contract after being the Red Sox hero after picking up six scoreless innings in relief in game three of the World Series. He followed up with an injury riddled 2019 season. So far this year he has a 2.45 ERA, but hasn’t picked up many whiffs (17.8%) yet has limited walks (4.4%). His stuff always has looked like it should get better results than it historically has, but he’s by far the Red Sox best starter remaining.

The Red Sox signed Martin Perez had a good start last year for the Minnesota Twins before cratering down the stretch. Perez was once a top prospect in the Texas Rangers system, but has been more backend starter than good during his career. He gets limited strikeouts (14.7%) but allows too many walks (8.4%) for the profile to really work. Perez is a perfectly fine number five starter, but right now he’s the clear cut number two for the Red Sox.

The Offense

The Red Sox offense isn’t nearly as threatening as it has in years past without Mookie Betts. I expect middling results lead by a very top heavy top 3 in the lineup. So far that’s what the Red Sox have been hitting .257/.316/.425 and putting up a 105 wRC+. Their 46 runs is tied with the Rays for 13th in the league.

Among the top names, Xander Bogaerts (184 wRC+) has gotten off to quick start of the guys expected to lead the offense, but JD Martinez (78 wRC+) and Rafael Devers (74 wRC+) have gotten off to slow starts.

Christian Vasquez (196 wRC+), Kevin Pillar (183 wRC+), and Mitch Moreland (140 wRC+) have helped cover for the other stars’ lapses offensively.

Battle to stay out of the basement of the AL East

No matter how high or low you were on the Rays or Red Sox entering the season you wouldn’t have expected a battle between the two teams currently at the bottom of the AL East standings.

If the Red Sox sweep the Rays they would firmly place the Rays at the bottom while the Rays only need a 1-1 split in order to keep Boston in the basement.

Hopefully the Rays offense gets back on track after a rough roadtrip as they look to make their cardboard cutout fans make a lot of noise.