Tampa Bay Rays (4-6) Vs. Boston Red Sox (3-7)
Rays won 2019 season series 12-7
Rays: Coming off a disastrous 0-5 road trip, including an embarrassing sweep in Baltimore, the Rays look to get back on track against the last-place Red Sox. Their offense disappeared, compiling only 13 runs across the five games. The two Atlanta games could be excused because they faced the Braves’ two best pitchers. However, there is no reprieve for being silenced by a Baltimore pitching staff full of journeyman starters. The Rays’ pitching wasn’t stellar, but they kept the team withinin striking distance every game. A 4.64 ERA during the road trip doesn’t live up to Tampa Bay’s lofty standards. It is still decent though and the bats have to carry their weight. Currently, only five players on the team are hitting above .200 and only three players own an OPS of at least .800. To no surprise, the team currently ranks in the bottom ten in all three slash line stats (AVG/OBP/SLG). The Red Sox don’t have world-beaters in their pitching staff, so the Rays should have an opportunity to create some offense in this series (I’ve been burned on a similar prediction recently). There is hope, however, as the Rays’ best player will make finally make his season debut.
Austin Meadows returns from the COVID-19 list and hopes to catalyze Tampa Bay’s offense. The 2019 All-Star was the x-factor for the Rays last year. During the months (March, April, May, and September) in 2019 when Meadows had a 1.000 OPS, The Rays’ record was 52-28. During the months he was below, often well below, that figure, they went just 44-38. The Rays played well in 2019 when Meadows was not in the lineup. They have not been as fortunate in 2020. Their 2019 leader in batting average, home runs, RBI, runs scored, slugging percentage, and WAR will be a welcome addition to a floundering offense.
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox have been in all the wrong headlines for a year or so. They traded their best player and a former Cy Young winner to L.A. Their best pitcher, Chris Sale, is out due to Tommy John surgery. Their next best pitcher, Eduardo Rodriguez, will miss this season due to heart issues suffered during his own battle with COVID-19. The Red Sox pitching staff is a shell of what it was during their 2018 World Series run. Nathan Eovaldi remains, but they have struggled to survive on the backs of fringe-starters like Ryan Weber, Zack Godley, and Matt Hall. Their bullpen has also deteriorated since they allowed Craig Kimbrel to leave via free agency after 2018. They were most recently swept in a three-game series at Yankee Stadium.
Boston’s lineup is still respectable, headlined by sluggers J.D. Martinez, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers. Catcher Christian Vazquez has come on strong over the last year. But the Red Sox still miss Mookie Betts’ offensive presence. Andrew Benintendi has not quite blossomed as hoped. Jackie Bradley Jr. always teases offensive potential before falling victim to his strikeout propensity and they are waiting for an improvement from the centerpiece of the Betts deal, Alex Verdugo. Boston’s struggles can be partly attributed to Martinez and Devers combining to hit just .216 thus far. The Red Sox are going to be out of contention quickly if their production doesn’t improve on both sides of the ball.
Matchups to watch:
Rays: Keep the big boppers cold. J.D. Martinez and Rafael Devers have gotten the better of the Rays’ upcoming starters. Martinez has dealt the most damage, going 13-for-32 with a homer and three doubles off Morton and Yarbrough combined. Devers is 9-for-29 against those two, also hitting a home run and three doubles. Much like the first two games of the Atlanta series when they shut down Ronald Acuna Jr. and Freddie Freeman, Tampa Bay will have to hold off a resurgence from Martinez and Devers to avoid their first six-game losing streak since June 2018.
Red Sox: Quiet the Rays early. The Rays are immediately inserting Austin Meadows into their leadoff spot. The Red Sox have the worst starting pitcher ERA in the league right now. During the first and second innings of games in 2019, the Rays ranked 11th in MLB in scoring. Through ten games this year, they have scored one run during the first two innings of their games. Only the Angels have scored less (amazing considering, ya know, Mike Trout). Tampa Bay’s bullpen is still rock-solid despite their recent road struggles. If the Red Sox let Meadows and Brandon Lowe dictate the scoring pace early, they may not be able to recover.
Prediction: Both teams are struggling. Further extension of either losing streak could prove fatal to their playoff chances. The Rays have superior pitching. A continued lack of run support will undermine their efforts. Meadows’ return is important, but we’ve seen several All-stars Struggle to reacclimate during the shortened preparation period (See: Acuna Jr., Trout, Christian Yelich). He may not be physically prepared for such important games. Both teams have been inconsistent to this point. It’s likely to stay that way. Rays and Red Sox split two at the Trop.