The Advanced Scout: It’s Tampa Bay Time!

The Advanced Scout eagerly previews a series that should be high on intrigue.

Price - Photo Credit: Kelly O'Connor, sittingstill.net

The Red Sox are on a roll, and they head into a big weekend matchup with the Rays after a much-needed day of rest, concluding 20 games in 20 days. The series will boast quite the pitching matchup, as Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz will roll out against the Rays’ own top three pitchers. After splitting a brief two-game series last week, both teams will meet with a real chance to affect the AL East standings.

The quality of the Rays’ pitching and top-heavy lineup will be on display against a Sox team that’s started to craft an identity out of being a gritty team playing all out. Sounds a lot like the Rays, doesn’t it?

Starting Pitchers: David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore

The Red Sox have to go through the Rays’ buzzsaw of David Price, Jeremy Hellickson and Matt Moore. That’s two elite left-handers the team is facing, and will do so without the services of Cody Ross, a lefty-killer who is now out for about two months. That should make the going easier for Price and Moore.

Price bounced back his last time on the mound after giving up eight earned runs in 14 innings over his two previous starts. He handcuffed the Braves with ease, but that was a NL lineup. More telling are those eight earned runs he coughed up to the Yankees and Blue Jays, respectively. Back on April 13, Price gave up three runs in three innings to Boston, walking three and striking out three, giving up four hits. Can the Sox hit him as well this time around?

Moore is a bit easier for Boston to get through. After dazzling baseball last season much in the same vein that David Price turnEd Heads during the Rays’ run to the 2008 World Series, Moore has stumbled this year with a 5.07 ERA in nine starts. He’s striking out batters at a good clip, but he’s offering up too many free passes as we saw in his April 15 loss at Boston when he issued four walks against five whiffs, giving up six runs on eight hits.

Sandwiched in between the lefties is Hellickson, who has already faced Boston twice this year. He tossed up a five-run outing in five innings against the Sox on April 14, but we just saw him last week when he held the BoSox to one run in six innings on May 16. Hellickson, last season’s Rookie of the Year, is enjoying a very similar season to last year. One thing to keep an eye on is the fact the series is in Boston. In six home starts, Hellickson has a 1.63 ERA as compared to a 5.19 mark in just three away starts. Sample size and all that, but he had obvious home/road splits last season, too.

Expected Lineup

1. Carlos Pena, 1B
2. B.J. Upton, CF
3. Matt Joyce, LF
4. Ben Zobrist, RF
5. Luke Scott, DH
6. Sean Rodriguez, 3B
7. Will Rhymes, 2B
8. Elliot Johnson, SS
9. Jose Molina, C

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not

Remember Drew Sutton? It’s easy not to. The Red Sox signed Sutton to a minor-league contract last season, and he collected 60 at-bats for the team before being let go at the end of the season. The 29-year-old is now a Ray, having been acquired just a few days ago and has been thrust into the starting lineup, collecting four hits in eight trips to the plate for a cool .500 batting average.

Carlos Pena, meanwhile, is hitting just .217 on the season and .125 in the last seven days. He’s undergoing a bit of a power outage as well, with only two extra-base hits in this timeframe. The Rays recently tried to get him going by moving him into the leadoff spot two games ago. It’s worked, as he’s 3-for-8 in these two games with the aforementioned two extra-base hits (double, homer) and two walks.

B.J. Upton is hitting .448 in the last six games with two homers … Luke Scott has dug his way out of a slump this past week by hitting .292/.400/.458 … Ben Zobrist is ice-cold with just four hits in his last 24 trips to the plate, as is Matt Joyce with two hits in his last 15 trips.

Injuries

Desmond Jennings has been injuried with a left-knee sprain since May 12, and is eligible to come off the disabled list on May 27, which is also the last day of the series. The latest word (Tampa Bay Times) has Jennings being activated that day or shortly thereafter, which would really lengthen Tampa’s lineup and get one of the middle infielders out of the lineup and return Zobrist to second base. If the Rays are slumping on Sunday, they might activate Jennings.

Bench player and first baseman Brandon Allen could be back with the Rays in time for the series, as he has already embarked upon a rehab assignment. He would deepen their bench but would be unlikely to affect the series beyond a spot-start or pinch-hit duty. The Rays also have RP Kyle Farnsworth, SP Jeff Niemann and 3B Evan Longoria (amongst others) as notable absences from the roster, but their timetable is a ways off. The Red Sox will be facing a team struggling to make things happen offensively.

And What About The Red Sox?

The Red Sox have a pretty motley crew of outfielders that we’ll see on display this weekend. Skipper Bobby Valentine said he’s not very eager to put Adrian Gonzalez in the outfield at Fenway, and I’m with him there. Right field is essentially another center field, and asking A-Gon to switch perspectives on how a ball comes off the bat in left field, plus dealing with the Green Monster, isn’t a good idea. That means Will Middlebrooks is probably headed to the bench for this series, and we get to look forward to a Daniel Nava-Marlon Byrd-Scott Podsednik (and Che-Hsuan Lin, maybe) alignment. Fun for everyone!

In Summary

This is going to be a slugfest, and fortunately Boston will have Kevin Youkilis back in the fold to do battle with. Ideally, the Sox would also have Cody Ross, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford on the roster, but what are you going to do? Boston’s ability to adapt to the Rays’ pitching talent as well as counteracting their myriad defensive shifts will be the key to victory. In a season where Fenway Park has bedeviled Boston, a series win would go a long way towards lifting the spirits of fans and the team alike.

Categories: Adrian Gonzalez Carlos Pena David Price Desmond Jennings Drew Sutton Jeremy Hellickson Matt Moore Tampa Bay Rays

Born on the 37th anniversary of the the day Babe Ruth died (1985) which later became the day Jimy Williams was fired in 2001 (a monumental event at the time), Evan was too young to experience the pain 1986 brought, but a deep wound was sowed in 2003. Since then, Fire Brand has become a blog that Red Sox “club officials read,” as per Peter Gammons. Evan enjoys working out, writing, reading, quality television, science fiction and history and being newly married. He is a professional baseball journalist as well as president of a state non-profit and member of the Board of Directors for a national profit. (Twitter.)

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