Welcome to another weekend preview.
The Red Sox, as you may know, have been bad this season. They’ve been especially bad against AL East opponents, and even worse on the road. That spells trouble for the Sox this weekend as they begin a seven-game divisional road trip in St. Petersburg to take on the first-place Tampa Bay Rays at the Trop. Let’s look at what to expect as these teams meet for the third time this season.
Tampa Bay Rays – Current Record 41-33 – Projected Record 86-76
After a fourth-place finish in 2014, the Rays were projected to finish near the bottom of the standings once again this season. It made sense. Tampa lost manager Joe Madden to the Cubs, dealt David Price at the deadline and Ben Zobrist in the offseason, making an already underwhelming roster look even worse on paper. What the Rays have accomplished thus far has been downright impressive. They sit in first place, have one of the best rotations in baseball despite being depleted by injuries and show no signs of slowing down.
Rick Porcello vs. Alex Colome, Friday, 7:10 p.m.
Is there a bigger bang-your-head-against-the-wall pitcher in baseball right now than Rick Porcello? If so, I’d rather not meet him. Watching Porcello has been nothing short of maddening. Just look to Saturday in Kansas City as evidence of that. The right-hander looked strong through the first four innings, and was even handed a 4-1 lead. But he imploded for five runs in the fifth inning, turning a comfortable advantage into his sixth straight loss. Porcello’s inability to compile shutdown innings is only part of the problem. As Ryan Morrison pointed out this week, Porcello’s biggest issue this season has been his pitch selection and location. Porcello is using his four-seamer and his changeup more than ever, and leaving more pitches up and getting crushed by hitters. Although he’s getting more strikeouts, Porcello’s 5.61 ERA and 1.35 HR/9 is telling of where he is right now.
Fortunately for Porcello, his counterpart, righty Alex Colome, has been prone to clunkers as well. Colome has allowed five or more runs in three games this season, striking out fewer batters, walking more and surrendering more homers than Porcello. Colome, however, has been much better lately, allowing one run or fewer in three of his last four starts. He was especially strong in his last outing Sunday, tossing a one-hit shutout with four strikeouts over seven innings. Colome is at his best when his command is on, something he showed in April when he shut down the Sox in Boston.
Wade Miley vs. Matt Andriese, Saturday, 4:10 p.m.
Wade Miley has been strong in his two starts since the dugout meltdown with John Farrell in Baltimore, combining for two runs in consecutive victories. Miley had one of his most impressive outings of the season Sunday, holding the All-Star-laden Royals scoreless over six innings while working in a good pitch mix. The lefty threw four of his five pitches 19 or more times, getting whiffs on 15 percent of his changeups and 13.8 percent of his sliders. He finished with just two strikeouts, his lowest total over his last four starts, but overcame trouble and command issues by keeping hitters off-balance. Miley’s repertoire is certainly an asset, and will be key if he is to remain effective.
The Red Sox have a bad habit of making little-known starters look like aces. That reality must have Matt Andriese chomping at the bit despite seeing mixed results in his two-and-a-half-month major league career. The Rays initially brought the righty up as a reliever, but injuries to Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Matt Moore and recently Jake Odorizzi forced Andriese into the rotation. Andriese isn’t going to pile up strikeouts, but he has decent command and mid-90s velocity on his fastball and sinker to go with good swing-and-miss ability on his cutter. Andriese’s longest outing this season lasted 5.2 innings, so it’s essential for him to be aggressive in the strike zone and avoid working high pitch counts early.
Justin Masterson vs. Chris Archer, Sunday, 1:10 p.m.
Joe Kelly has finally lost his spot in the Red Sox’s starting rotation. His replacement? None other than Justin Masterson. It’s not much of an upgrade, but it’s at least worth watching. Masterson was placed on the disabled list in mid-May with what was described as “right shoulder tendinitis” after sporting a 5.26 FIP through seven starts this season. The righty made four rehab starts in the minor leagues and had a 3.29 ERA and 7.90 K/9 in three starts in Triple-A Pawtucket. Masterson was originally moved to the bullpen upon activation, but never made an appearance. Sunday will be crucial in him earning a starting spot again.
Archer finds himself in some elite company so far this season, all while carrying a team that lacks in offensive prowess and has had four starting pitchers on the disabled list. The righty has allowed one run or fewer in 10 starts this season, tying him for second in the majors with Max Scherzer and one behind Zack Greinke, who has 11. Archer boasts an upper-90s fastball and a deadly swing-and-miss slider, lifting him to a 10.75 K/9 as he’s reached double-digit punchouts in four starts this season. Archer is more than just the guy calling out David Ortiz for admiring home runs. He’s now a dominant force on the mound who owns a 2.23 FIP and a major league leading 2.79 PWARP.
The Rays have stuck with a consistent lineup throughout the season, with the only change coming when James Loney went on the disabled list with a fractured finger. Jake Elmore has since moved to first base, leaving Tampa with a righty-heavy lineup.
Kevin Kiermaier – CF – L – .267/.303/.435, .284 TAv
Joey Butler – DH – R – .327/.367/.503, .317 TAv
Evan Longoria – 3B –R – .274/.356/.409, .292 TAv
David DeJesus – LF – L – .291/.349/.430, .291 TAv
Logan Forsythe – 2B – R – .292/.374/.451, .308 TAv
Steven Souza – RF – R – .228/.321/.448, .280 TAv
Asdrubal Cabrera – SS – S – .206/.262/.327, .216 TAv
Jake Elmore – 1B – R – .245/.290/.327, .241 TAv
Rene Rivera – C – R – .162/.203/.262, .170 TAv
The Rays are 23rd in baseball with a .260 team TAv. They’ve relied heavily on the top of their order, which was hindered by Loney’s injury, to produce, and have yet to get much out of offseason signing Asdrubal Cabrera. Like many of its successful teams over the past seven years, Tampa’s lineup is essentially Evan Longoria and a bunch of no-names. But enough of those no-names have excelled to make it work.
Despite numerous setbacks, Tampa Bay continues to prove itself as a legitimate contender in the American League. But with some favorable matchups – aside from Masterson vs. Archer – and better play of late, the Sox may be set to turn their fortunes against the AL East leaders. However, if this season has taught us anything, prepare for the worst, Red Sox fans.
Photo by Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports Images