The long wait is nearly over. After clinching the American League East on September 20, and the American League’s best record on September 28, it took until October 2 to finally learn the Red Sox Divisional Round opponent for the 2013 playoffs. Once again, a familiar foe resurfaces.
After winning 4-0 in Cleveland last night, Tampa Bay will be traveling to Fenway to take on the top-seeded Red Sox beginning tomorrow afternoon. To get here the Rays won games in three different cities (Toronto, Arlington, and Cleveland) in the span of four days. While the Rays may be currently streaking, the Red Sox certainly have had the upper hand over Tampa Bay to this point in 2013, winning 12 of 19 games during the season series.
My utter disdain for the Rays franchise is well-documented, and I would have much rather faced the Indians in the ALDS. As great as this season has been only a select few things could actually ruin it at this point. Losing a postseason series to the Rays is one of those things. I’m one of the people that actually hates the Rays more than the Yankees at this point. I mean both franchises are cocky, but at least the Yankees have actually won something. Just go away, Tampa Bay. No one likes you. (No seriously, just check out the crowds at your own “home” games.)
So, as Tampa Bay makes Massachusetts its fourth stop of the week, what players make me worry, and what players don’t? I’m glad that you asked.
Three Rays Players That I Don’t Fear:
Fernando Rodney — A closer with a 1.335 WHIP? Yes, please. Koji’s 0.565 WHIP laughs at your face, your hat, and your arrows, Ferny. Any time Rodney comes in to close out a game you feel like you still have a chance. He’s erratic (4.9 BB/9) and only Jim Johnson blew more saves this year.
James Loney — We all knew that he wasn’t really the .315/.366/.466 hitter that he portrayed himself to be in the first half of this year. His .276/.322/.378 triple slash line after the break confirmed that. He is one of the best fielding first basemen in the league, but at the plate he is nothing more than mediocre.
Ben Zobrist — Don’t get me wrong, Zobrist is a solid all-around player, but not one that I fear. I don’t fear .275 batters with 12 HR, even if they have a high walk rate (10.3%). He is 9-for-58 (.188) in his career versus Jon Lester, and 4-for-36 (.111) against Clay Buchholz. Do I respect him? Sure. Do I fear him? Not at all.
Three Rays Players That I Fear: (To keep the list shorter, I’m excluding rapists, anti-Semites, filthy liars, and homophobes. These are players that I fear purely in a baseball sense. You stay classy, Devil Rays!)
1) Evan Longoria — I fear Longoria in a playoff series in a “he keeps me awake at night like there is anything I can actually do about it” kind of way. The guy is absolutely terrifying. The only player I would fear more in a series right now is (a healthy) Miguel Cabrera. Against the Sox this year he was .269/.329/.538 with five home runs, and reached base 29 times in 19 games. In the excruciating 2008 ALCS he hit four home runs against the Red Sox. At some point in this series he is going to come to the plate with the game on the line and homer-prone Junichi Tazawa on the mound. That thought alone makes me start to rock back and forth like a nervous Leo Mazzone.
David Price — Price’s season stats may not look as intimidating as they have in years past, but those are misleading because of his pre-DL struggles. This guy has been on fire since the break with a 2.87 ERA and 2.72 FIP. Against Boston in five starts he pitches 32 2/3 innings, with a 2.48 ERA, holding the Sox to an anemic .167 batting average.
Matt Moore — Moore faced the Sox twice, won both games, posted a 1.80 ERA, and a .102 batting average against. On paper this “effectively wild” (4.5 BB/9, 8.6 K/9) type of pitcher should not flourish against the notoriously patience Red Sox lineup, but Moore certainly did this year, with 12 strike outs to only three walks.
Red Sox, you have given us far more than any of us could have reasonably asked for or expected this season, but for the love of all that is good, please beat this poorly supported, Chewbacca mask wearing, marginally funded, mariachi band loving, unreasonably arrogant, trash-talk tweeting, silly-string spraying franchise.