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Series Preview: Rays vs. Red Sox

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Minnesota Twins v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays took care of business in Baltimore with a three game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles. Now they head to Boston to take on the Boston Red Sox. The two teams are going to become well acquainted with each other as 10 of the Rays remaining 50 games are against the Red Sox.

The Rays lead the season series 5-4. The series started off with the Rays dropping their first four meetings, but the Rays have turned things around and won the last five. The sweep last weekend at Tropicana Field saw the Rays regain the American League East lead and the lead has only expanded with the Red Sox dropping 10 of their last 13 games.

The Rays hold a 4.0 game lead over the Red Sox in the American League East. The New York Yankees are 6.0 games back and the Toronto Blue Jays are 7.0 games behind. The Orioles are nearing mathematical elimination at 29.0 games back.

Matchups:

Tuesday 7:10 PM: Luis Patino vs Eduardo Rodriguez
Wednesday 7:10 PM: Ryan Yarbrough vs Nathan Eovaldi
Thursday 4:10 PM: Josh Fleming vs Nick Pivetta

Eduardo Rodriguez has probably been more unlucky than terrible in 2021. He has a 65.7% left on base rate and .367 BABIP that has led to an elevated 5.33 ERA. His 3.38 FIP and 3.30 xFIP suggests he has should be one of the most productive pitchers in the league. His strikeout rate has surged to 28.9% and his walk rate has fallen to 7.0%. Homers haven’t been that big of a problem. The Rays scored five runs in 6.0 innings against Rodriguez in his lone start against them this year. Lately though his luck as started to turn in his favor. Rodriguez throws a 92.6 mph four-seam fastball and 92.6 mph sinker as his fastball offerings. Teams tend to stack right handed batters so his 85.9 mph changeup is his second most used pitch coming in near 25% despite throwing it infrequently to left handed batters. He’ll throw a 88.4 mph cutter and 82.3 mph slider inside to right handed batters.

Nathan Eovaldi has been the Red Sox most effective starter this year, but his last two starts have really driven his ERA up, as he’s allowed 13 runs in 10.0 innings. One of those starts was against the Rays who put up six runs in 5.1 innings. Overall he’s put up a 4.07 ERA/2.76 FIP/3.69 xFIP. He’s put up a solid 23.3% strikeout rate but the 4.5% walk rate is where he’s excelled. He’s also done a fantastic job keeping the ball in the ballpark with a 6.5% HR/FB rate. Eovaldi leans on a 97.0 mph four-seam fastball as his primary pitch. He’ll use a 78.8 mph curveball, 92.7 mph cutter, 86.2 mph slider, and 88.2 mph split finger as his secondary options.

Nick Pivetta has been solidly average putting up a 4.34 ERA/4.19 FIP/4.38 xFIP. He’s increased his strikeout rate to 26.3% but that has come with an uptick with a 10.0% walk rate. In his first two starts against the Rays he held them scoreless over 11.2 innings however in the last start they chased him in the fifth inning after putting up three runs. Pivetta primarily throws a 94.7 mph four-seam fastball just over 50% of the time. He adds a 86.0 mph slider and 78.9 mph curveball as his secondary offerings. He will infrequently throw a 88.1 mph changeup that he has shown a willingness to throw to batters of either hand.

The Red Sox bullpen has been solidly productive putting up a 3.77 ERA/3.90 FIP/4.09 xFIP. Matt Barnes and Garrett Whitlock have been very good while Adam Ottavino and Josh Taylor have been productive. The problem really comes in depth as the middle relief hasn’t been nearly as effective.

Red Sox have a good but very top heavy lineup.

The Red Sox have been the eighth highest scoring offense in the game at 4.83 runs per game trailing the potent Rays lineup who comes in fourth at 5.09 runs per game.

As a team the Red Sox are hitting .257/.320/.435 and putting up a 103 wRC+. They don’t walk a lot (7.7%) but strike out a fair amount (23.2%). Their 141 home runs rank tenth.

Rafael Devers leads the team in most offensive categories. He is hitting .285/.359/.562 and putting up a 144 wRC+. He leas the team with 27 homers, 71 runs scored, and 82 RBI.

JD Martinez has bounced back from a disappointing 2020 season with a .290/.355/.533 line and 136 wRC+. He has 21 homers.

Xander Bogaerts completes the trifecta of bats at the top to middle of the lineup that leads to most of their run production. He is hitting .303/.370/.504 and putting up a 134 wRC+. He has hit 16 homers.

Enrique Hernandez (110 wRC+), Alex Verdugo (108 wRC+), and Hunter Renfroe (102 wRC+) have provided solid support.

The rest of the lineup has been disappointing. Christian Vasquez (76 wRC+), Bobby Dalbec (74 wRC+), Marwin Gonzalez (57 wRC+), Danny Santan (48 wRC+), and Franchy Cordero (39 wRC+) have not provided the offensive support one would expect from a good offense.

Jarren Duran is one of the Red Sox best prospects and has struggled in his first cup of coffee. In 59 plate appearances he’s hit .196/.220/.357 and put up a 48 wRC+. 23 strikeouts have been the biggest problem.

The Red Sox defense has been much improved in 2021 with a +4 DRS and +14.9 UZR. Hernandez (+11 DRS in CF) and Alex Verdugo (+7 DRS in LF) have been their best defenders. Xander Bogaerts (-10 DRS at SS), Bobby Dalbec (-7 DRS at 1B), and Kevin Plawecki (-6 DRS at C) have been the laggards defensively.

The Rays momentum has carried over to August.

In July the Rays had the best record in the majors at 16-8 and have followed that up with a 5-2 start to August.

The Rays are where they want to be. They are leading the division and have been playing well recently. They can’t afford to overlook the Red Sox despite their recent struggles because they are fully capable of going on a run.