Records Entering Series: TB (1-5, 4th in AL East), BOS (5-1, 1st in AL East)
The Red Sox take on the Rays for the second time this year already in Boston’s first home stand of 2018. Boston starting pitching has been lights out so far, allowing just 4 runs this year, and the offense seems to have MAYBE finally awoken, tallying 11 runs in their last two.
In the other dugout, Rays pitching was surprisingly good vs. the Sox in their first meetings. They’ll look to continue that success here in Boston.
Hitters to Watch
TB: Mallex Smith – To be perfectly honest, there isn’t much to choose from here. The Rays are one of the worst offenses in the league, with a team BA of just .195 and 2 home runs. Smith is someone who could be a surprise asset to this team, though. At only 24-years old, he’s raised his BA in each of his 2+ years in the league and possesses some decent speed, swiping 16 bags in each of the previous 2 seasons. He’ll enter the series with a respectable .300/.364/.664 stat line (in only 10 at-bats).
BOS: Andrew Benintendi – Benintendi has had a very slow start to the year, but he tallied 2 hits in the final game against the Marlins in what was perhaps the first step in him breaking out. Alex Cora seems intent on keeping him in the 2-hole (at least for now), but he needs to begin producing if he hopes to remain at the top of the order. He was a better road hitter than home hitter last year, but we’re hoping the Fenway crowd will give him the boost he needs.
Pitchers to Watch
TB: Alex Colome – Colome tallied 47 saves as the Rays closet last year, and was the man who shut the door on Opening Day vs. Boston. If the Sox bats continue to struggle, he could see a couple opportunities to add to his saves total in 2018.
BOS: David Price – Price was lights out in his first start against this same Rays squad last week, and he’ll be looking to build on that. With a newly healthy elbow, Boston’s #2 could be the catalyst that propels them to a deep playoff run. This game will be the next barometer of what kind of pitcher he’s going to be this year. He’ll look to toss another gem, hopefully locating as well as his last game while potentially ramping up his velocity to what we’re used to seeing from him.
Matchup to Watch: The Boston bats vs. whomever Tampa decides to throw in game 1.
There’s talk that Tampa will implement one of it’s so called “bullpen days” on Thursday. Basically, that means that they won’t trot out a traditional starting pitcher to begin the game, and instead will use solely relief pitchers throughout. It’s an experiment that the Rays coaching staff has been throwing around since Spring Training, and was maybe used in the 3rd game of the opening series vs. Boston. In that game, Andrew Kitteredge threw 57 pitches over 3.1 innings, and then Ryan Yarborough threw 73 pitches over 4. It was effective, but it’s unclear whether that combination will be used again.
If they do decide to go for it, it will be interesting to see how it’s managed this time around. What kind of pitch counts will guys be on? Will they use different guys situationally, or just give them assigned innings? What kind of effect will it have on their relief corps for the remainder of the series? All of these questions are being asked by every organization on the Rays schedule this year, and every one of them will be keeping an eye on this series if their plan is put to the test.