Another division rivalry reaches the postseason stage as the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox open up their ALDS on Friday.
The Red Sox ended up pulling away in the AL East race, winning the crown by a comfortable six games. That forced the Rays to go through a two-step process just to get into the tournament. On Monday, Tampa defeated the Texas Rangers 5-2 in Arlington to earn the final wild card position. On Wednesday, the Rays eliminated the Cleveland Indians in the wild card play-in game, winning 4-0 behind a strong starting effort from Alex Cobb.
Now the Rays will look to win their fourth road game in four different cities in a span of six days — they won in Toronto on Sunday — while the Red Sox will look to protect their home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Game 1: Friday at 3:07 p.m. ET in Boston (TV coverage on TBS)
Game 2: Saturday at 5:37 p.m. ET in Boston (TBS)
Game 3: Monday, time TBA, in St. Petersburg (TBS or MLB Network)
Game 4*:Tuesday, time TBA, in St. Petersburg, (TBS)
Game 5*: Thursday, time TBA, in Boston (TBS)
* if necessary
Game 1: Matt Moore (17-4, 3.29 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (15-8, 3.75 ERA)
Game 2: David Price (10-8, 3.33) vs. John Lackey (10-13, 3.52)
Game 3: Alex Cobb (11-3, 2.76) vs. Clay Buchholz (12-1, 1.74)
Game 4: Chris Archer (9-7, 3.22) vs. Jake Peavy (12-5, 4.17)
Game 5: Price vs. Lester (probable)
As long as the Rays have Moore and Price at the top of their rotation, they’ll have a chance in a short series. The over-powering lefties are experienced in the postseason and fearless by nature, so it’s ideal to have both taking the ball at Fenway, while Cobb and the rookie Archer pitch in more familiar surroundings. Boston counters with good balance and invaluable experience throughout their rotation. The second half resurgence of Lester and a healthy Buchholz could be the difference in the series.
Boston owned the season 12-7, though it's worth noting the teams only played one three-game series after July 30. The Red Sox took two out of the three at Tropicana Field Sept. 10-12. In fact, Boston ended fairing equally well in both locations, going 6-4 at home and 6-3 at Tropicana Field.
THREE KEYS FOR THE RAYS
• Pitch to win: It’s a wonderful life for Joe Maddon when he can use a pair of aces like Matt Moore and David Price to bookend a short series. On any given night, they are capable of shutting down an All-Star team, which is close to what they’re facing with Boston. If they both are on, the series could be won on their backs alone. And that’s not to overlook Alex Cobb or Chris Archer, either.
• Stay hot, Evan Longoria: After a rough start to September, Evan Longoria has caught fire over the last eight games — including the tiebreaker and wild card games — hitting .393 with three home runs and 11 RBIs. When Longo heats up, the Rays offense tends to roll right along with him, so a big series would greatly enhance the Rays chances.
• Joe Maddon: He’s a fearless manager and he’s going to be aggressive when he senses there’s an opening. As we saw in the wild-card game when he strangely called for a Jose Molina stolen base attempt, sometimes it backfires. But his feel for the game and ability to pick his spots could help Tampa steal a precious win.
THREE KEYS FOR THE RED SOX
• Win in Tampa: Boston’s roster is built to win in any ballpark under any circumstances. That said, they probably don’t want the series going the distance with David Price possibly looming in an elimination game. If the Red Sox can knock off Moore and Price in the first two games, they’re in the driver’s seat. If not, they’ll need those two wins in Tampa.
• Get the ball to Koji Uehara: The 38-year-old right-handed emerged as the game’s most dominant reliever after taking over at closer in mid-June. Over his last 40 1/3 innings in the regular season, Uehara allowed one earned run. That included a stretch bridging August and September where he retired 37 straight batters. Needless to say, he’s been lights out, and the Red Sox will want to continue riding the hot hand.
• One big inning: Stringing hits together against Tampa pitching is not an easy feat. When the opportunity for a big inning arrives, Boston has to take advantage with a crooked number.
FIVE IMPORTANT NUMBERS
0.86 — The combined ERA of Matt Moore and David Price in four starts at Fenway Park this season.
.612 — Boston's OPS against Rays pitching.
14-2 — The Rays record in road games started by Matt Moore.
2.01 — The difference between Jon Lester's first half ERA (4.58) and second half ERA (2.57)
40 — The number of doubles by Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He's the 15th catcher since 1901 to reach 40 doubles.