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Series Preview: Rays vs. Red Sox

Boston Red Sox vs Toronto Blue Jays Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays bats broke out in the series finale against the New York Yankees to avoid the sweep. A series with major American League East standings implication starts this weekend at Tropicana Field. The Rays and Boston Red Sox are going to become familiar foes as they play 13 times in the Rays final 59 games.

The Red Sox currently lead the American League East by 1.5 games over the Rays, 8.5 games over the New York Yankees, 9.5 games over the Toronto Blue Jays, and 26.5 games over the Baltimore Orioles.

Matchups:

Friday 7:10 PM: Martin Perez vs Josh Fleming
Saturday 6:10 PM: Nathan Eovaldi vs Ryan Yarbrough
Sunday 7:00 PM: Nick Pivetta vs Shane McClanahan

Martin Perez continues to be an effective starting pitcher in the majors. His 4.18 ERA/4.49 FIP/4.46 xFIP is in line with his career numbers. 19.3% strikeout rate would represent a career best while also posting a 7.7% walk rate that would be one of the lowest of his career. He has been susceptible to the homerun. The Rays put up three runs in 5.0 innings in his first start of the season. Perez pitches off a 89.4 mph cutter that he throws just over 30% of the time. He adds a 92.5 mph sinker and 84.6 mph changeup about 25% of the time. He will sprinkle in a 93.2 mph four-seam fastball and 78.5 mph curveball. He doesn’t get to face many lefties but when he does he goes very heavy on the sinker.

Former Ray Nathan Eovaldi has been the headliner of an otherwise mediocre rotation. In 116.0 innings he’s put up a 3.49 ERA/2.48 FIP/3.58 xFIP. His strikeout rate remains at 23.6% while his walk rate has lowered to 4.3%. The stuff always felt like he should get more strikeouts, but the drop in walk rate has been the biggest improvement from his time with the Miami Marlins and New York Yankees. In his only matchup against the Rays this year the Rays managed just a single run in 7.0 innings. Eovaldi primarily throws a high octane 97.1 mph four-seam fastball. He mixes his remaining pitches evenly between a 92.7 mph cutter, 88.2 mph split finger, 86.2 mph slider, and 78.8 mph curveball. Left handed batters can eliminate the slider.

Nick Pivetta has been fine. He has a 4.51 ERA/4.31 FIP/4.45 xFIP over 107.2 innings. He’s seen his strikeout rate rise to 26.0% while his walk rate has risen to 10.4%. He’s done a better job keeping the ball in the ballpark this year, but as a high flyball pitcher it’s not going to be fun when balls are flying over the fence. In his two starts he’s held the Rays off the scoreboard while combining for 11.2 innings. Pivetta throws a 94.7 mph four-seam fastball just over half the time. He will add a 86.0 mph slider and 78.9 mph curveball. He’s not afraid to throw sliders to left handed batters. He will very rarely sprinkle in a 88.0 mph changeup.

Boston has hit their way to victory.

Last year was a down year for Red Sox hitters, but they have rebounded with a .256/.320/.441 line and 104 wRC+. Their 5.00 runs per game is fifth most in MLB and just edges the Rays 4.97 runs per game mark.

The three middle of the order bats have led the way for Boston.

Rafael Devers continues to get better as a hitter. He’s putting up a .286/.357/.586 line and 148 wRC+. His 27 homers lead the team. He was removed from a game Wednesday due to quad tightness and sat out yesterday’s game. He is listed as day to day and should return for this series.

JD Martinez struggled in 2020, but has been his normal self in 2021. He’s hitting .293/.361/.546 and putting up a 141 wRC+. He has 20 homers.

Xander Bogaerts returned to the lineup this week after missing a handful of days due to a sore wrist. He’s hitting .307/.370/.515 and putting up a 137 wRC+. He has 15 homers.

Before the trade deadline came the Red Sox looked to add another hitter and settled on Kyle Schwarber, but he’s still on the Injured List. He’s expected to return in the next two or three weeks.

Enrique Hernandez (110 wRC+), Alex Verdugo (107 wRC+), and Hunter Renfroe (103 wRC+) have been good complimentary bats.

Christian Vazquez (75), Bobby Dalbec (72 wRC+), and Franchy Cordero (44 wRC+) have struggled offensively.

The Red Sox rank middle of the pack with a +3 DRS, but their +15.0 UZR ranks them fourth. They aren’t terrible defensively, but they have some defensive weak spots.

Sunday Night Baseball at the Trop.

The Rays have a chance to cut down the division lead or even take the lead with a sweep. A sweep may not be realistic, but the Rays need to bank some head to head wins against the Red Sox. The Red Sox hold a 4-2 advantage in the season series. With 13 games remaining winning this series would be a good start on their way to a AL East Championship.

Oh, and by the way: It’s been nearly ten years since ESPN has chosen a game at Tropicana Field for their exclusive TV coverage on Sunday Night. But they will be back for the finale of this series.