The Tampa Bay Rays return home after a very successful road trip. They went 5-0 while the others in their division lost games. Things are looking up for the Rays as September nears.
The Rays lead in the division has widened to 6.0 games over the New York Yankees, 8.0 games over the Boston Red Sox, 13.5 game lead over the Toronto Blue Jays, and the mathematically eliminated Baltimore Orioles sitting 41.5 games back.
The Rays lead in the division isn’t the only place where they have separated themselves. They hold a 5.0 game lead over the Houston Astros for the best record in the American League.
Monday 7:10 PM: Nick Pivetta vs Luis Patiño
Tuesday 7:10 PM: TBA vs TBA
Wednesday 7:10 PM: Chris Sale vs Drew Rasmussen
Thursday 7:10 PM: Eduardo Rodriguez vs Shane McClanahan
There is some uncertainty surrounding the pitching schedules for this series. Tuesday would be Chris Sale’s turn on normal rest. With their playoff situation it would be surprising to see them go with a six man rotation. The Rays have gone with a six man rotation to help throttle the innings of the rookie starters to hopefully keep them fresh for the playoffs. With their place in the rankings they can afford to be more conservative. Tuesday is Ryan Yarbrough’s turn in the rotation but he could come in after an opener.
Nick Pivetta has been a fine starter for the Red Sox in 2021. He’s taken the ball more or less every sixth day and put up a 4.57 ERA/4.36 FIP/4.44 xFIP over 130.0 innings. He’s put up a 26.1% strikeout rate and 10.3% walk rate. In his first two starts against the Rays he held them scoreless over 11.2 innings, but last time the Rays chased him in the fifth and put up three runs. In five of his last eight starts he’s allowed four or more runs. Pivetta works off a 94.8 mph four-seam fastball that he throws just over half the time. Against right handed batters he’ll lean on a 86.0 mph slider as his secondary weapon of choice, but is still willing to throw it to left handed batters. His 78.9 mph curveball is his go to against left handed batters, but also is thrown frequently against right handed batters. He will very rarely throw a changeup but is willing to throw it to all batters.
Lakeland native Chris Sale is scheduled to make his fourth start of the year. In his first three starts he’s been fantastic. He’s put up a 2.35 ERA/3.75 FIP/2.48 xFIP over 15.1 innings. He’s posted a 34.4% strikeout rate and 4.9% walk rate. Sale has worked 5.0-5.1 innings in each of his starts with a max of 89 pitches, so it’s probably unrealistic to expect more than 6.0 innings or 100 pitches. His velocity hasn’t fully returned to the 95+ levels he was before 2019, but his 93.1 mph four-seam fastball is in line with his 2019 velocity. His 78.4 mph slider, and 86.3 mph changeup are his breaking ball and off-speed weapon of choice. The Rays need to make him work and force him out of the game earlier than the Red Sox want.
Eduardo Rodriguez’s 2021 season has been wild. His 5.12 ERA is bad, but his 3.49 FIP and 3.49 xFIP are extremely good. He’s posted a 27.5% strikeout rate and 7.0% walk rate. The bad has come in a .358 BABIP allowed and a 66.8% left-on-base rate. The Rays have put up seven runs in 11.1 innings against Rodriguez this year. Rodriguez throws a 92.5 mph four-seam fastball, 88.4 mph cutter, and 92.6 mph sinker as his fastball offerings. His second most used pitch is a 85.5 mph changeup. Teams have stacked righties against him this year so he’s faced very lefties.
Boston’s bullpen has been solid with a 4.00 ERA/3.99 FIP/4.16 xFIP. Garrett Whitlock was a great Rule 5 draft find out of the Yankees system posting a 1.57 ERA/2.59 FIP/3.15 xFIP over 63.0 innings in his first year in the majors. Matt Barnes has been good with a 3.81 ERA/3.00 FIP/2.71 xFIP, but has really struggled in the second half after being named to the All-Star team. Adam Ottavino has been another quality acquisition from the Yankees with a 3.46 ERA/3.03 FIP/4.70 xFIP. Josh Taylor has been their best lefty with a 3.38 ERA/2.93 FIP/3.73 xFIP. The results have been pretty poor outside of the top four options.
The Red Sox have one of the most productive lineups in the game.
The Red Sox are hitting .259/.326/.446 and putting up a 106 wRC+ as a team. This has led to 669 runs and 5.07 runs per game which rank third and fourth respectively in the majors.
Rafael Devers (139 wRC+), Xander Bogaerts (132 wRC+), and JD Martinez (130 wRC+) combine for one of the best middle of the lineups in baseball.
They have gotten help from Enrique Hernandez (118 wRC+), Hunter Renfroe (115 wRC+), Alex Verdugo (111 wRC+), and Christian Arroyo (108 wRC+). [eds note: after positive COVID tests, Hernandez and Arroyo will not be with the Red Sox for this series.]
It took time for their lone notable trade deadline acquisition, Kyle Schwarber, to make his debut but in 56 plate appearances he has put up a .349/.500/.581 line and 195 wRC+.
The Red Sox have put together a solid defense with a -2 DRS and +6.8 UZR as a team. The advanced metrics think they get the job done despite 89 errors that is second most in the majors.
The Red Sox don’t have the best offense this series.
Despite ranking top four in the majors in scoring they face off against the team that ranks first in runs (696) and runs per game (5.35), the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays offense has been firing on all cylinders this year and in the second half they have stepped things up. In the second half the Rays are hitting .260/.326/.480 and putting up a 121 wRC+ which is best in the majors. They have scored 256 runs which is good for 6.40 runs per game. Both are tops in the majors.
If you asked any player, manager, or front office personnel this is where the Rays wanted to be and where they expected to be. They have played well and hold a 6.0 game lead in the division with the calendar about to flip to September. The division is theirs to lose. They still can’t look past the remaining 32 games, but falling out of the playoffs would take a 2011 Red Sox type of collapse.
The Rays have a chance to eliminate the Red Sox from the division discussion this week. It likely only will take the Rays winning two of four, but the Rays need to continue to put wins up so the final series against the Yankees will be meaningless for them.