When I wrote the Rays series preview last week I started it by asking if the prior series could have gone much worse. Just a week later and the tone and feeling around this team is so different. The Red Sox took five of their seven games against the Rays and Yankees, and really could not have dreamed of much more. However, if it had not been for dropping the final game of each series it could have been the perfect week.
8/1 Andrew Cashner vs. TBD 7:10 pm NESN
Price and Morton will go head to head once again to open this series, having closed out the last one. Combined they pitched 13 innings, allowed five earned runs on nine hits and two walks while striking out 19. They might find it a little tougher in the more hitter-friendly confines of Fenway Park, but this should be a matchup to watch.
With Yarbrough currently projected to start the second game, it is worth looking at how he fares as a starter this season and in his career. Both this season and in his career he is worse as a starter than a reliever, but that is not hugely surprising given the situations. However, the split that should concern the Red Sox is home versus away. At home, his ERA in any role is 5.79, but on the road that drops to 2.79. The Red Sox cannot allow that game to slip through their fingers, but it will not be easy.
The still relatively new Red Sox pitcher Andrew Cashner has a limited body of work against the Rays. He has just five starts and 29 innings against them in his career. His overall numbers are fairly middling, with a 4.03 ERA, 2-1 record, 18 strikeouts, and 12 walks. Not good, but not a disaster. Against a usually stingy Rays pitching staff the Red Sox could do with him being good in this one.
The Red Sox offense has been on fire in the last week. In the last seven days, they have hit .354 with 11 home, 46 runs scored and a whopping 37 extra-base hits. That does not even include the 14 runs they scored in the first two games of the last Rays series. This is the offense we expected this season, and we need to see more of it.
Getting on top of the Rays offense is key to victory. That is an obvious statement, but when I say early I mean really early, as in the first batter of the game. This season, in 108 PA the Rays have hit .340 in that spot, with eight runs, 15 extra-base hits, eight walks, and just 18 strikeouts. Overall the number one hitter in their order has a .306 batting average, 28 home runs, and 57 extra-base hits. That leads all positions in their batting order.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Pitching: The righties on this roster are the big question mark right now, well, and Chris Sale too. However, focusing on Porcello and Cashner is key for opponents right now. The two righties have been unimpressive this season, and the Red Sox need that to change. Their two starts against a lineup which is solid but unspectacular will be key. If they blow up, and the Red Sox lose to two of the Rays lesser starters, they once again head to face the Yankees in a lot of trouble.
Hitting: Hopefully, we are just going to sit back and watch this lineup do their work. However, the real intrigue is Morton, because if the Red Sox want a World Series they will likely need to beat pitchers like Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole. Perhaps even Morton himself in a play-in game to just simply get into a full playoff series. Lay down a marker in Game 1 and the best pitchers in the league will suddenly fear this offense a little more.
The Red Sox are flying high right now. Although if they are the team we want them to be they will be beating themselves up over those two losses in winnable situations to end those series. However, they have given themselves an outside shot at the division, and put themselves in a better position for the Wildcard game.
Going to New York will be tough, especially given the Red Sox are better at home than on the road. Therefore, this series needs to be a win. Ideally, it needs to be 3-0 to really put pressure on the Yankees, but that might be asking too much. The Red Sox offense will be key here. Can they get after Morton? Hopefully. Do they need to provide some run support for the last two games in the series? Most definitely. If they do not they could be facing a series defeat and being double-digit games behind the Yankees all over again.