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2013 ALDS Preview: Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox won five more games than the Rays on the season and went 12-7 over 19 regular season games against Tampa. Of course, regular season stats don’t always spell post-season success.

Evan Longoria
Evan Longoria

Sep 30, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria at bat during the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark at Arlington. Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

With the Tampa Bay Rays winning their second win-or-go-home game of the week, Joe Maddon‘s club will face off against John Farrell and the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series. The Red Sox won five more games than the Rays on the season and went 12-7 over 19 regular season games against Tampa. Of course, regular season stats don’t always spell post-season success. Let’s take a look at how these clubs matched up in the regular season and what to expect heading into their best-of-five set.

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The Red Sox clearly had trouble hitting Rays’ pitching but Tampa’s less-than-impressive (although very scrappy) lineup had an even harder time scoring runs against the BoSox’ staff. Most of the games took place early in the year. Since July, the series has been more evenly matched with the Red Sox going 4-3 against Tampa. The playoffs are all about momentum and both teams are coming in hot – although the Red Sox haven’t played a game in almost a week and had to get an intra-squad game in on Wednesday to make up for the extra days off. Let’s look at how the two teams match up this time around.

Game One: Matt Moore vs. Jon Lester

The Rays will trot out arguably their best starter for the series opener after Matt Moore put up a 2.79 ERA in September. He did walk a lot of batters though and posted a 1.59 WHIP so he got out of some jams but all in all, he went 8-1 with a 2.33 ERA and .198 BAA over his last 12 starts. Moore has given up just one run and three hits over 10 career playoff innings.

After posting a 4.58 ERA in the first half, Lester was much improved after the All-Star break, going 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Lester has been here before and owns a career 2.57 ERA and 1.12 WHIP over 42 post-season innings. It should be a very evenly matched pitching duel in game one.

Game Two: David Price vs. John Lackey

Price was locked in as he faced the Rangers in game 163, pitching a complete game and surrendering just two runs. Price hasn’t given up more than two runs in a game over his last five starts and has a 2.53 ERA since the beginning of July. Price was great against the Sox this year, posting a 2.48 ERA and 0.67 WHIP over 32.2 IP.

Lackey struggled on the road but is a great pitcher at Fenway, posting a 2.78 ERA and 1.14 WHIP at home. Still, he struggled in September, posting a 4.98 ERA over five starts and was beat up by the Rays, allowing nine runs and 19 hits over just 10 IP. A definite advantage of Tampa in game two.

Game Three: Clay Buchholz vs. Alex Cobb

Buchholz only pitched 108 innings this year but posted a phenomenal 1.74 ERA and went 12-1. He looked just as strong in September as he did before his arm injury, going 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He completely owned the Rays in two starts against them, going 2-0 with 13 scoreless innings and just five hits surrendered.

Cobb looked great as he shut down the Indians in the wild card game, pitching 6.2 scoreless innings, albeit while giving up nine base runners. Unfortunately, the Red Sox have his number. He faced them four times this season and posted a 5.16 ERA and 1.50 WHIP over 22.2 IP. A definite advantage for the Red Sox in this one.

Game Four (if necessary): Jake Peavy vs. Chris Archer

Peavy was a solid starter after coming to Boston, going 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. He’s only made it to the playoffs twice in his long career, struggling in both starts and giving up 13 runs and 19 hits over 9.2 IP. Peavy was mediocre in two starts against the Rays this season, giving up six runs and 10 hits over 12.2 IP.

Archer struggled in the final month of the season, posting a 4.78 ERA and 1.37 WHIP over 26.1 IP in September. He also struggled in two starts against the Red Sox this season, giving up five earned runs and 18 baserunners over just 8.2 IP. This matchup seems like a toss-up but it might lean in Peavy’s direction since Archer has only made it into the sixth inning in two of his last six starts.

Game Five (if necessary): Matt Moore or David Price vs. Jon Lester

Let’s look at how the offenses behind those guys stack up.

Catcher: Advantage Red Sox

Jarrod Saltalamacchia isn’t just a fun name to try to spell, he’s coming off his best month in terms of BA, HR, and RBI. He even stole four bases in September and batted .440 over the final two weeks of the season. He’d have the edge over Jose Molina, a strictly defensive catcher, either way but he got hot at just the right time.

Infield: Advantage Red Sox

The Red Sox infield is obviously led by second baseman Dustin Pedroia but he batted just .209 against the Rays during the regular season with no home runs, three doubles, and six RBI. He’s a career .252 hitter in the playoffs and owns a .119 BA over three division series but he has produced five home runs, 14 XBH, 22 R, and 18 RBI over 28 post season games.

First baseman Mike Napoli, on the other hand, is coming in red hot, batting .333 with six homers, six doubles, and 16 RBI over the final month of the season. He only batted .217 against the Rays during the season but put up a home run, seven doubles, and nine RBI over 17 games.

Shortstop Stephen Drew stepped up his game at the end of the season, hitting six homers and driving in 29 runs over the final two months of the season. At third, the Red Sox could choose from Will Middlebrooks or rookie Xander Bogaerts but neither is a great option. Middlebrooks hit six homers and drove in 15 in the final month but batted just .158 over the final week of the season and just .140 against the Rays over 12 games. Bogaerts batted .250 with three extra-base hits and five RBI over 50 plate appearances and batted just .111 over the final two weeks.

Tampa’s infield is led by All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria who was a triple short of the cycle in game 163 against the Rangers and added a hit and a run in the wild card game against the Indians. He’s a career .196 hitter in the playoffs but he’s hit eight home runs and driven in 18 RBI over 26 post season games so he’s liable to produce.

Shortstop Yunel Escobar isn’t much of a hitter and batted under .200 in the final four weeks of the season but he’s got a great glove and that’s what the Rays are looking for from him. Second baseman Ben Zobrist saw his lowest offensive output in three years this season and only hit four extra-base hits for four RBI in the final four weeks of the season. He batted just .230 against the Sox, driving in a mere four runs over 19 games.

First baseman James Loney was a great get for Tampa and he finished off the season 15 RBI over the final four weeks. He’s a career .343 hitter with 14 RBI in 18 post-season games and drove in eight runs over 19 games against the Red Sox this year.

The two infields match up well. The Red Sox have the momentum advantage but Tampa’s corner infielders were made to produce in the playoffs.

Outfield: Advantage Red Sox

Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury is as good as you can get, batting .298 on the season with a league leading 52 SB (just four caught), 48 XBH, and 92 R. He’s been solid in the playoffs, batting .261 with eight extra-base hits, 11 RBI, 12 R, and five swipes over 22 post-season games.

Shane Victorino turned it up in the second half, batting .297 with 11 HR, 37 RBI, 25 XBH, 42 R, and 10 SB over 58 games after the All-Star break. He didn’t have much success against the Rays, however, batting just .191 with three runs batted in over 17 games.

Daniel Nava only drove in 14 runs over 47 second-half games but batted .336 after the All-Star break and hit two homers, two doubles, and drove in six runs over 13 starts against Tampa.

Jonny Gomes batted .340 in the final month but only .150 with six RBI against the Rays over 15 games. Mike Carp was strong in the first half but only hit one home run after the All-Star break. Still, he owned the Rays this season, batting .429 with a homer and seven RBI in just 15 at-bats.

For the Rays, their best outfielder is rookie Wil Myers. Myers closed the season strong, batting .308 with four homers, 13 doubles, and 14 RBI in September. He did very well against the Sox in the regular season, batting .303 with a homer, three doubles, and eight RBI over just nine games.

Desmond Jennings is playing through a leg injury and was disappointing in the second half, batting just .222 with three homers, 16 RBI, and five steals over 49 games. He did hit four home runs against the Red Sox during the season, however, so he might have their number.

David DeJesus is a passable outfielder but not a particularly good hitter. Delmon Young is the guy Tampa will look to lean on. He hit his ninth post-season home run against the Indians on Wednesday and has 16 RBI over 29 post-season games. He finished out the season strong in Tampa, hitting three home runs and driving in seven over just 62 at-bats.

Clearly the Red Sox have an advantage in the outfield in terms of starters and depth. With Young likely playing DH, he’ll face off against Big Papi. Ortiz is coming off one of his best months of the season after batting .293 with six home runs, 10 doubles, and 21 RBI in September. He did well against Rays pitching too, batting .281 with two homers, nine RBI, and three doubles over 16 games. He’s a career .283 hitter in the playoffs with 12 HR, 18 2B, and 47 RBI and should be the difference maker once again this season.

Bullpen: Advantage Red Sox

The two teams have comparable bullpens with the Red Sox’ relievers combining for a 3.70 ERA and 1.32 WHIP on the season while Tampa’s bullpen posted a 3.59 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. The Rays clearly give up fewer baserunners but the Red Sox have the closer advantage. While Fernando Rodney blew eight saves in 49 chances, Uehara posted a 1.09 ERA on the season and converted 22 of 25 save chances. Since the All-Star break, Uehara owns an inhuman 0.28 ERA and 0.31 WHIP.

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