Sort of an “out of the frying pan, into the fire” situation for the Red Sox here, huh? They just finish with a hard-fought series victory over the New York Yankees only to run into the magma-hot Rays from St. Pete. We always want more baseball, and this time, it’s gonna be guaranteed to take years off your life! Prepare for heart attacks galore!
TAMPA BAY RAYS – 58-41, 2nd place in the AL East (1.5 GB)
The Rays are starting to pester the Red Sox once more. Fueled by a recent offensive explosion, they’ve gone 19-4 in the last 23 games. The last time they lost a series? June 19th, when they scraped out a win against the Red Sox after losing the first two games in the series. A close look at their recent run, however, reveals that other than their three games against the Detroit Tigers, the other 20 games have been against teams with record below .500. So this shall be a interesting series indeed.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
(Have mercy on me – Joe Maddon loves to shuffle this up, especially against LHP)
1 – Desmond Jennings – CF – .268/.335/.446
- Speedy leadoff guy for the Rays, and usually plays regardless of the handedness of the pitcher. Good at swiping bags as well, with 15 steals so far.
- Jennings is enjoying a nice bit of growth from last year, especially in the power department. His ISO jumped from .143 in ’12 to .178 in ’13.
- Has a real shot at being a 20-20 player this year. He’ll get enough steals, but the homers are another thing entirely.
2 – Ben Zobrist – 2B – .264/.351/.394
- The prototypical super-utility guy for the Rays. Plays anywhere from shortstop to right field, with adequate defense to boot.
- Seems to have lost quite a bit of power since last year. His ISO has dropped over 80 points, and now hovers around .130 in 2013.
- The underwhelming (relative to Zobrist) stat line is partly due to him swinging at more pitches out of the zone instead of taking them for balls.
3 – Evan Longoria – 3B – .278/.358/.517
- The all-around best player on the team, but that probably goes without saying. He’s on pace for roughly 7 fWAR this season. Ridiculously good.
- Had a 146 wRC in just 312 PA last season. In 2013, he has a 141 wRC in 413 PA. You can call that “terrifyingly healthy”.
- Superb defender. His UZR is 12.2 – he’s over 12 runs above average, and has six Defensive Runs Saved so far on the season.
4 – Wil Myers – RF – .310/.336/.460 (in 122 PA)
- Universally-heralded prospect that the Rays acquired from the Kansas City Royals in the trade that shipped James Shields out of Tampa.
- His slugging percentage in his last 728 PA in Triple-A? A robust .537. There’s no doubting it: the kid has power.
- His walk rate is around 5% right now, but that’s just a sign of growing pains. It’ll bounce back up to 10% by mid-season ’14.
5 – James Loney – 1B – .314/.365/.463
- The oft-maligned first baseman finally learned to hit, it looks like. After years of struggling to keep a wOBA around .325, it’s a surprising .357 this season.
- A massive BABIP spike in the first couple months of the season made his slash line look absolutely ridiculous, but regression is in progress.
- Solid with the glove over at first, even if he can be a bit nonchalant at times.
6 – Luke Scott – DH – .274/.361/.488
- Scott’s pretty much a designated hitter at this point, but he’s trying to play well enough to not be locked in a platoon.
- Provides power & patience with some contact hitting. Has a .214 ISO and a 10% walk rate to go along with a 138 wRC so far this year.
- Still hasn’t shaved those damn mutton chops. If someone tells him they cause drag and slow him down, will he get rid of them?
7 – Kelly Johnson – LF – .256/.328/.474
- Slowly developing into another super-utility player, just like his teammate Zobrist. Started at least one game at each of the infield positions.
- Surprisingly enough, he’s also kept a good glove, with his fielding being worth over three runs above average.
- Johnson’s still striking out a ton, but his K-rate has dropped over four percentage points from last year, so his bat’s more productive now.
8 – Yunel Escobar – SS – .251/.312/.367
- Despite all the stupid/childish stuff he does, Escobar is a solid shortstop, at least defensively. He’s racked up 8 Defensive Runs Saved there.
- Not a lot of power in his bat. Likes to put the ball in play and pressure the fielders to throw him out. Striking out a bit more than usual, though.
- Not notoriously fast, or even all that great of a baserunner, which puts something of a damper on his value.
9 – Jose Molina – C – .238/.291/.314 (in 192 PA)
- Molina is 38 years young and he’s really being kept around for his defense, namely his pitch-framing skills, since his defense as a whole is sub-par.
- Strikes out three times more than he walks, and has no power to speak of anymore. Literally worth 0 wins above replacement.
- Molina is the closest you can get in the AL to having a pitcher hit in the 9th spot. Has a .270 wOBA and a 71 wRC.
Who’s hot? – Last 14 games
- Kelly Johnson: .478 AVG, 3 HR, 309 wRC
- Luke Scott: 4 HR, 8 RBI, .478 wOBA
Who’s not? – Last 14 games
- Jose Molina: 0 HR, .089 wOBA, -53 wRC
- Matt Joyce: .238 AVG, .286 SLG, 57 wRC
Two young starters clashing the first night? Couldn’t think of a better way to kick this off. While Matt Moore has been good lately, he’ll have to limit his free passes if he wants to win against the patient Red Sox lineup. Workman himself is coming of a very solid start against the Oakland Athletics, where he pitched 6 1/3 innings of two-run baseball against a very good A’s offense.
The Artist Formerly Known As Fausto Carmona facing off against the now cutter-less southpaw. This one could turn into a hit parade rather quickly, if both starters’ pitch-to-contact ways don’t work out. The bullpens will be key here, and I’d favor the Rays bullpen over the Sox at this point in the season.
While Doubront has been very good as of late, the Red Sox are at a disadvantage from the start, as David Price has been absolutely dominant in the month of July: 32 IP, 7 ER, 23 K & 1 BB(!!!) to go along with 2 complete games. John Farrell’s going to have to stack the lineup with right-handed hitters, because he’ll need all the help he can get here.
Lackey’s string of six quality starts was just broken up by the Yankees, and it stretched back to June 10th against – you guessed it – the Rays. He’ll look to get back on track here. Meanwhile, Hellickson hasn’t allowed more than 3 earned runs in a start since a 8-run fiasco against the Royals on June 13th.
- Tampa Bay
- Alex Cobb: 7-day DL (June 16th, mild concussion)
- Yunel Escobar: Missed Sunday’s game (July 21st, strained right hamstring)
- Wil Myers: Missed Sunday’s game (July 21st, sore left wrist)
- Andrew Bailey: 15-day DL – will miss remainder of the season (July 13th, to undergo right shoulder surgery)
If there was ever an AL East series to win so far this season, this would be it. The Rays winning it would throw the top of the AL East standings into chaos, and the Red Sox winning it would solidify their position at the top of the division. Brace yourselves – this is gonna be a wild ride.