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Rays Series Preview: Wander Franco meets the Red Sox

Welcome to the show, kid!

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Workouts Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Last week was a miserable week for the Tampa Bay Rays when it comes to wins and losses. The Rays have lost six straight, but on Sunday night they announced the top ranked prospect in all of baseball will be making his MLB debut tonight.

The Rays fell out of the top spot in the American League East and trail the Boston Red Sox by 0.5 a game. The New York Yankees sit 4.5 games behind Boston while the Toronto Blue Jays trail by 7.0 games.

The Rays have an opportunity to claim the division lead tonight as they start a three game series against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field.


Tuesday 7:10 PM: Eduardo Rodriguez vs Andrew Kittredge
Wednesday 7:10 PM: Garrett Richards vs Rich Hill
Thursday 7:10 PM: Nick Pivetta vs Michael Wacha

Note: The Rays will open with Andrew Kittredge in game one with Ryan Yarbrough expected to pick up the bulk innings.

Eduardo Rodriguez has an inflated ERA that doesn’t match his FIP or xFIP. He has posted a 6.21 ERA/3.63 FIP/3.37 xFIP over 66.2 innings. His 26.8% strikeout rate and 6.2% walk rates would be career bests. His 15.6% HR/FB is a little higher than average but not too out of line. He’s been snake bitten with a .380 BABIP allowed leading to a 62.4% Left On Base rate which is the fifth lowest among pitchers with at least 60 innings thrown in 2021. His stuff has shown no drop off after developing myocarditis — inflammation of the heart — due to COVID-19 last season. He throws a 92.5 mph four-seam fastball about 35% of the time as his primary pitch. He’ll add a 86.5 mph changeup, 88.3 mph cutter, and 92.7 mph sinker to round out his repertoire.

Garrett Richards has stayed healthy for the first time since 2015. His 74.1 IP is just two innings shy of his most innings thrown in a season since surpassing 200 innings in 2015. He has a 4.36 ERA/4.03 FIP/4.57 xFIP. The biggest disappointment has come from a 19.2% strikeout rate that would be his lowest since 2013. He’s combined his lowered strikeout with an elevated 10.5% walk rate. He’s only allowed six homers. The 94.1 mph velocity on his four-seam fastball has steadily fallen over the last half a decade from his 2014 peak of 97.2 mph. He throws the fastball nearly 60% of the time. His 88.2 mph slider is his breaking ball of choice coming in at just over 25% with the final 15% coming from a 79.4 mph curveball.

Nick Pivetta has had a solid season after four lackluster campaigns with the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2021 he’s put up a 4.36 ERA/4.13 FIP/4.38 xFIP over 74.1 innings. His strikeout rate has surged to 27.0% though it’s came at an uptick of his walk rate to 11.3%. The biggest change has come in his groundball rate dropping nearly 10%. He’s primarily a three pitch pitcher with his 94.8 mph four-seam fastball being his pitch of choice coming in at just over 50% usage. He mixes a 85.8 mph slider and 79.0 mph curveball to complete his repertoire splitting the remaining 50%.

The biggest improvement for the Red Sox this year has come in the bullpen. Matt Barnes has been dominant. Adam Ottavino has rebounded from some rough years with the New York Yankees, and Garrett Whitlock has been a great rule 5 draft pickup (also from the Yankees).

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox
Apr 6, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox left fielder J.D. Martinez (28) celebrates with third baseman Christian Arroyo (39), catcher Kevin Plawecki (25), catcher Christian Vazquez (7), and third baseman Rafael Devers (11) after hitting the game winning two-run RBI double against the Tampa Bay Rays during the 12th inning at Fenway Park.
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Overall the Red Sox offense looks very similar to the Rays.

The Red Sox are hitting .258/.318/.441 and putting up a 104 wRC+. Their 5.03 runs per game ranks third most in baseball behind the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Where they differ from the Rays offense is they are reliant on their three middle of the order bats in Xander Bogaerts (149 wRC+), JD Martinez (145 wRC+), and Rafael Devers (140 wRC+). Along with Alex Verdugo (117 wRC+) they generally hit 2-3-4-5 everyday.

Two former Rays have been provided support with Christian Arroyo (106 wRC+) and Hunter Renfroe (101 wRC+).

Enrique Hernandez (87 wRC+) and Marwin Gonzalez (57 wRC+) have disappointed in utility roles. Bobby Dalbec (88 wRC+) and Christian Vazquez (80 wRC+) round out their everyday lineup.

The Red Sox have allowed 44 stolen bases. That is the third highest total in the majors and they have only caught nine. Their 17.0% caught rate is very low, so look for the Rays to run when they have the opportunity.

It’s a Wanderful day to be a Rays fan.

Tonight Wander Franco makes his MLB debut at Tropicana Field. This moment has been building for the last few years, but it’s finally here, and sure to make this series one to remember.