Wade Miley

Weekend Preview: Red Sox vs. Rays, Part VI

It’s Friday! So a preview of the Red Sox’s weekend series is in store.

Suddenly this Red Sox team is fun to watch. This week they took two of three from the juggernaut Blue Jays, making them 13-7 in their last 20 games. Things are going so well for the Sox that Joe Kelly felt confident enough to stare down Joe Bautista after striking him out on Wednesday night. What an odd season it has been. Getting to consistently watch the Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. outfield is excellent, and even better now that JBJ does not look completely overmatched every time he steps in the batter’s box. In fact he has been a key contributor to an offense that has been the best in the American League over the last 30 days. This team was supposed to hit, it just took until August for it to really come together. Speaking of hitting, Hanley Ramirez is eligible to come off the disabled list tonight. This means that he could get an opportunity at first base this weekend, although at this point I think it is probably best to avoid adding more miles to his legs and keep his first base work to pre-game workouts. David Ortiz is two home runs shy of 500 regular season home runs, which is a mark only 26 other humans have accomplished. Given that the Sox are headed out on a nine-game road trip it seems unlikely that he will get the milestone in Fenway. Ortiz has hit well in Tropicana Field, despite it being a place that typically suppresses offense, so there is a good chance the milestone comes this weekend.

Tampa Bay Rays – Record (68 – 71) – Projected Record (80 – 82)

The Rays are a team built on run prevention, and while that has mostly lived up to expectation, injuries to several important players affected their fortunes. Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, Desmond Jennings and Steven Souza Jr., all spent considerable time on the disabled list this season. Despite this, the Rays still manage to do a good job of preventing runs. They have allowed the third lowest total in the AL (543), 125 fewer than the Red Sox. As expected, their pitching (3.92/3.84/4.04 RA9/FIP/DRA) and defense (.717 defensive efficiency) have been tops in the league. Kevin Keirmaier alone makes their defense worth watching. He has produced 20.0 fielding runs above average in center field. The problem for the Rays has been scoring runs. They rank last in the AL and third last in all of baseball in runs scored with 534. Of the 14 players on the team that have accumulated at least 150 plate appearances, five have a sub-.300 on-base percentage, and Souza Jr. (.303) is one bad afternoon from falling below that threshold. It is really hard to pile up run totals when that large a proportion of your everyday lineup is making an out more than 70 percent of the time. Like the Red Sox the Rays are in look-to-next-year mode. In 2016 the run prevention could be even better, as they will have Alex Cobb back, a full season from Drew Smyly, ideally worked out what ails Matt Moore, and Desmond Jennings’ knee issue should be resolved, allowing him to patrol an outfield corner. If they can make an addition push or two to the offense to get it to even slightly above average, they will be a serious threat.


Game 1: Wade Miley vs. Chris Archer, Friday, 7:10pm EDT

Wade Miley continues to be as advertised: an averagish pitcher who will eat innings. He has thrown almost 170 innings to date with an ERA- of 105 and FIP- of 94, so with a few good outings over the remaining few weeks he should be able to get into the 190-200 range and maybe get his ERA on the better side of average. He is coming off two strong outings that, while they were against the weaker offenses of the Mets and Phillies, are encouraging. Over 15 innings he struck out 14 and only walked one. Maintaining a ratio like that, or even half that, will help keep runs off the board. The Rays offense has been the third best in baseball hitting left-handed pitching (115 wRC+), so Miley will need to be in top form to hold them down.

In a season full of injuries to pitchers, Chris Archer has been constant for the Rays, and quietly put together a season worthy of Cy Young consideration. Archer ranks fourth in the American League by deserved run average wins above replacement player (DRA-WARP) with 4.80, behind only Sonny Gray, Dallas Keuchel, and David Price. His RA9/FIP/DRA (3.31/2.72/2.86) stats are all better than his marks from last season, in which he was a top-15 starter. His 2015 numbers appear to show that Archer has made another jump in his young career, positioning himself at the front end of a potentially potent Rays rotation, and top-5 or -10 in the league. An interesting subplot is the history that Archer has in warring with Ortiz through the media, although the feud was kyboshed by Ortiz earlier this year. Nevertheless it would be somewhat interesting to see Ortiz get his 500th dinger against Archer and batflip the hell out of it.

Game 2: Rick Porcello vs. Matt Moore, Saturday, 6:10pm EDT

How about this bright, shiny new Rick Porcello we have? Through his first 20 starts this season, Porcello was brutal, allowing more hits than innings pitched by a wide-margin (138 hits to 114.2 innings), giving up a lot of runs (6.06 RA9) and posting poor peripherals to boot (4.72 FIP; 3.4:1 strikeout to walk ratio). Since returning from the disabled list he has looked like the pitcher to whom the Red Sox thought they were giving a four-year deal. In his three starts he has a 2.82 RA9 (3.32 FIP), a sub-1 WHIP, and a 22/3 K/BB – although much of that is driven by his 13-strikeout, one-walk start against the Yankees. The reasons for Porcello’s dramatic improvement are many, but one thing that stands out is the rate at which he throws his sinker. In his pre-DL starts he was throwing his sinker and fourseamer in roughly equal proportions (~35%), but since returning he has thrown the sinker much more often (54%) than the fourseamer (15%). Along with this change in repertoire he is striking out more batters and getting more ground balls; two things he will need this weekend against the Rays who don’t strikeout a lot and tend to hit more fly balls than ground balls.

There was a time when Matt Moore was considered a front-line starter in the American League. After consecutive seasons of effective 150+ innings, his elbow broke after just ten innings pitched last season, requiring Tommy John Surgery. Since returning from the injury we have to wonder if he can stick in the major leagues. He has yet to throw more than five innings in a start, which could be part of a team-level plan, but it is not like they are removing him from quality outings; he has an 8.04 RA9 (5.35 FIP). The odd thing is that other than his much reduced strikeout rate – despite no appreciable decrease in velocity – there is not much about his numbers that is significantly out of line with career marks. But fewer strikeouts means more balls in play, and Moore has been unlucky with batting average on balls in play (BABIP) (.376 in 2015, .290 career), and has not been as effective as he was previously in stranding the runners he allows (61.6 LOB% in 2015, 74.4% career). The Red Sox strikeout at the third lowest rate in the game (17.8%), so they should pose a real problem for Moore in his new state.

Game 3: Rich Hill vs. Drew Smyly, Sunday, 1:10pm EDT

An earlier probable pitchers list had Eduardo Rodriguez starting on Saturday and Rick Porcello on Sunday. But the Red Sox are moving to a six man rotation and with Rodriguez already surpassing a career high in innings pitched on the season (152.2 innings between Pawtucket and Boston), the Red Sox will be limiting their 22-year-old stud the rest of the way. This means that 35-year old, New England native Rich Hill gets an opportunity. Hill has done a little bit of everything. He made 70 starts between the Cubs and Orioles from 2005 to 2009, then was used out of the bullpen by the Red Sox, Indians, Yankees, and Angels over the last five seasons with many minor league stints, and a Tommy John Surgery, coming along the way. This season at Pawtucket he made five starts (32.1 innings) and posted pretty good numbers (3.06 RA9, 3.59 FIP), striking out almost a batter per inning. Hopefully Hill can provide the Red Sox some length in his opportunities the rest of the way. His first major league start in six years brings a tough test as the Rays’ offense, as mentioned above, has hit left-handed pitching well.

The Red Sox will battle another promising young, left-handed starter who is working his way back from an arm injury on Sunday. Drew Smyly, the major piece of 2014’s deadline David Price deal, went on the disabled list in early May with a torn labrum. In his 47.2 innings with the Rays at the end of last season, Smyly was excellent, posting a 1.70 RA9 (3.07 FIP). Small sample, yes, but it must have helped assure the Rays of their new acquisition. Unfortunately, in a similar number of innings this year, things have not been as great, although still pretty good and the slightly worse performance is likely related to his shoulder injury. Smyly has a significant tendency for allowing fly balls, which works given the Rays’ excellent outfield, but fly balls can turn into home runs and he has had rough luck with allowing home runs at a higher rate this year. This weekend will be Smyly’s second outing against the Red Sox this year. In his last start before going on the disabled list in May, Smyly shut the Sox down for six innings, allowing only two hits and one run (a Mookie Betts solo bomb), while striking out six. The Sox won that game 2-0, but will ideally do more damage on offense this time around.

Opposing Lineup:

As noted, the Rays are a team built more around run prevention than run production. They have scored the third fewest runs in baseball (3.8 per game), ahead of only the Marlins and Braves. Evan Longoria is no longer the same force in the middle of the order he once was (135 wRC+ 2008-2013, 105 in 2014, 114 this year), and Steven Souza, who started the year strong (128 wRC+, 10 home runs in April/May), has significantly cooled off (68 wRC+, 5 home runs in June/July) and has been on the disabled list since August 2nd. Manager Kevin Cash is effective in mixing and matching to get the most out of his players, but they are still limited.






Kevin Kiermaier





Grady Sizemore





Evan Longoria





Logan Forsythe





Asdrubal Cabrera





James Loney





Tim Beckham





Brandon Guyer





Rene Rivera




With rosters expanding and the Rays’ penchant for using different players, the lineup is likely to look different from what is given above. John Jaso hits right-handed pitching well and struggles against lefties (career ~ .100 wOBA split) so I expect to see him on Sunday against Rick Porcello. Old friend Daniel Nava (.231/.367/.308 in 79 plate appearances with Tampa Bay) could start a game at first base or in right field. Lucky for the Red Sox, Rays team leader in wRC+ (min. 100 PA) Curt Casali is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Alas, the backup catcher will be J.P. Arencibia, who has performed really well in his opportunities this year (.394 TAv in 30 PA).


A (newly) strong offense and defense against a consistently strong defense and weak offense should make for an interesting weekend. These teams have split their previous 12 games this season, but as noted things are a little different now for the Red Sox. The Sox have three of their better starters taking the mound in the series, and the resurgent offense should be capable of knocking the Rays starters around a bit.

Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images

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