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Series Preview: Rays vs Red Sox, American League Division Series

MLB: ALDS-Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays were the champions of the American League East over the 162 game marathon. Tonight the Rays look to finish off what they started last postseason. Intended destination: World Series championship.

The Boston Red Sox earned the right to face the Rays after defeating the New York Yankees 6-2 in a lackluster Wild Card Game. This will be the third postseason meeting between the clubs. The Rays won the 2008 American League Championship Series while dropping the 2013 American League Division Series.

Game 1 - Thursday 8:07 PM: Eduardo Rodriguez vs Shane McClanahan

Eduardo Rodriguez has had a difficult time keeping runs off the board this season despite good peripherals. In 157.2 innings he’s put up a 4.74 ERA/3.32 FIP/3.43 xFIP. He’s put up a career best 27.4% strikeout rate and 7.0% walk rate. He’s done a solid job avoiding homers with a 1.08 HR/FB, but the .363 BABIP has hurt his ability to keep runs off the board. Rodriguez works off a 92.6 mph four-seam fastball. His offspeed weapon of choice is a 85.4 mph changeup that he will throw to hitters of both hands. He mixes in a 88.3 mph cutter that works much like a hard slider. He will throw a 92.5 mph sinker that he will throw mostly to left handed batters. Right handed batters have been more effective against him putting up a .282/.337/.437 line and .334 wOBA. The Rays are likely to stack right handed batters against Rodriguez and his presence in the rotation is one of the reasons Jordan Luplow made the roster over Brett Phillips.

After Tyler Glasnow went down with an elbow injured that ended with Tommy John surgery Shane McClanahan has stepped up in the role as top of the rotation starter. In his first Major League season he put up a 3.43 ERA/3.31 FIP/3.23 xFIP over 123.1 innings. The Rays have throttled his innings throughout the season so he could be at full power in the playoffs. He’s posted a 27.3% strikeout rate and 7.2% walk rate. McClanahan works mostly as a two pitch pitcher with a 95.4 mph four-seam fastball and 89.2 mph slider. He will mix in a 82.5 mph curveball that has been his most effective put away pitch despite low frequency usage. Against right handers he adds a 89.2 mph changeup that has kept right handed batters off balance but hasn’t been used as his put away pitch. Hunter Renfroe, Xander Bogaerts, and JD Martinez are the three batters that McClanahan will need to be careful of.

Game 2 - Friday 7:02 PM: Chris Sale vs Shane Baz

Chris Sale has had a smooth comeback from Tommy John surgery. He has put up a 3.16 ERA/3.69 FIP/3.35 xFIP in 42.2 innings. One of the few hiccups was his September 6 outing against the Rays. The Rays put up five runs, one earned in 3.2 innings after being held to two runs in 6.0 innings in his prior start against the Rays. Sale hasn’t posted elite strikeout rates but 28.4% is still a very good strikeout rate. He’s walking a few more batters but a 6.6% walk rate is still very good. Sale has lost a tick since undergoing the knife and his four-seam fastball now sits at 93.6 mph. His breaking ball of choice is a 78.0 mph slider that gets most of his whiffs. He adds a 86.8 mph changeup to complete his three pitch mix. This year right handed bats have been far more successful hitting .291/.363/.451 and putting up a .351 wOBA. The gap is usually large, but not nearly as large as we’ve seen this year. Matchups like this are why the Rays paid the high price to trade for Nelson Cruz at the deadline.

Shane Baz is the Rays shiny new toy in the rotation. In three starts including a planned short outing in his last warmup of the regular season he put up a 2.03 ERA/4.07 FIP/2.86 xFIP in 13.1 innings. He’s posted an absurd 36.7% strikeout rate that mirrors his minor league rate for the season. His 6.1% walk rate is partly a product of small sample size, but he’s made a significant improvement this year. Prior to this season he was walking 10-13% of the batters he faced. He doesn’t have much Major League experience but he was a member of the silver medal winning United States Olympic team earlier this summer. Baz has worked off a 97.0 mph four-seam fastball while mixing in a 86.7 mph slider as his best secondary pitch. He’s added a 82.5 mph curveball and 88.7 mph changeup that have significantly improved over the last year. The Red Sox don’t have anybody with extended looks at Baz. This should give the pitcher the advantage early on.

Game 3 - Sunday 4:07 PM: TBA vs Nathan Eovaldi

The expected Rays starter is Drew Rasmussen as the series heads to Boston. However Rasmussen is expected to be available in the bullpen in games one and two as a piggy back. If he pitches one of those game this start likely goes to the veteran of the rotation in Michael Wacha.

Nathan Eovaldi has had a one of his best seasons in the majors. He’s put up a 3.75 ERA/2.79 FIP/3.48 xFIP over 182.1 innings. His strikeout rate has risen to 25.5% while he’s continued to lower his walk rate to 4.6%. Eovaldi put up an impressive 5.1 outing in the Wild Card game against the Yankees. Eovaldi brings a high octane 96.8 mph four-seam fastball as his primary pitch. He uses a 78.5 mph curveball as his secondary pitch of choice. He adds a 85.8 mph slider to right handed batters. He’ll add a 87.9 mph split finger changeup and 92.5 mph cutter as low frequency pitches against hitters from both sides of the plate. Eovaldi forces you to swing the bat as he’ll fill up the zone and if you can get on his fastball you can find success.

Game 4 - Monday TBA
Game 5 - Wednesday TBA

Once these games are necessary we will find out more information as it becomes available.

Two of the top offenses in the game face off.

On the pitching side both teams will lean on non traditional bullpen usage. There will be multi inning relief outings from both sides where the lines between a starter and reliever will be blurred. However the real strengths of both teams come in the batter’s box.

The Rays (857 runs) scored the second most runs in the majors, but the Red Sox (829 runs) weren’t that far behind. The same thing is true with the Rays posting a 109 wRC+ and the Red Sox posting a 107 wRC+.

Rafael Devers (134 wR+C) and Xander Bogaerts (130 wRC+) are the two biggest threats. JD Martinez (128 wRC+) is on their ALDS roster despite not being on the wild card roster after slipping on the second base bag as he headed out to play right field during the last game of the season. It is unknown how much time Martinez will miss this series but if he misses any it’s a major weapon missing out of their lineup.

Kyle Schwarber (145 wRC+) has been a major addition to the lineup that the Red Sox made at the trade deadline.

Ex-Ray Hunter Renfroe (114 wRC+) has had a minor breakout season for the Red Sox after posting a disappointing 2020 for the Rays in the short season. He has a lot of power with 31 homers, hits left handers extremely well, and has one of the best outfield arms in the game.

Alex Verdugo (107 wRC+) Bobby Dalbec (107 wRC+), and Enrique Hernandez (110 wRC+) add to a solid middle part of the lineup.

Christian Vazquez (77 wRC+), Kevin Plawecki (102 wRC+), Travis Shaw (78 wRC+), Christian Arroyo (106 wRC+), and Danny Santana (58 wRC+) fill out the rest of the Red Sox roster.