It's only April but this series could become a crucial one for both teams. The Rays are 14-5 and hold a surprising eight-game lead over Boston, last in the division at 6-13. This is the worst start for the Red Sox since 1996 when they began 4-15.
After 19 games last season, Boston was 17-2 en route to a World Series title.
The Rays have been getting stellar pitching, timely hitting along with plenty of good defense and speed. Plus, Tampa Bay is - surprisingly - the only team in the division with a winning record. The Rays just took two out of three from Baltimore at home, but ended the series with a 6-5 loss in 11 innings on Thursday night.
Avisail Garcia forced that game into extra innings with a long ninth-inning solo homer, but the Orioles won it in the 11th.
Tampa Bay's pitching has been solid all season. The Rays led the major leagues before Thursday's loss with a 2.33 ERA. They have now allowed just 49 runs in 19 games. On offense, Tampa Bay was third in the major leagues in team batting average before Thursday's game (.269).
The defense wasn't too bad either as the Rays ranked third in the majors there also (before Thursday) with a fielding percentage of .989. Pitching, offense and defense - when a team is among the best in the majors in all of those categories, they are tough to beat.
In terms of pitching, the Rays will go with an opener for a third straight game in the first game of the Boston series on Friday as left-hander Blake Snell is on the injured list (broken toe). The pitcher who will open had not been announced yet after Thursday's game.
"We did (the openers) last year, but yeah there's no doubt (it's a challenge)," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said Thursday, per MLB.com. "Yesterday, we talked about how important it is for pitchers to be as efficient as possible, and they've done that so far. But we're going to need it a couple more times for everything to kind of (get) all into place for us."
Eduardo Rodriguez (1-2, 7.98) starts for Boston, his first game against the Rays this season. He has a 0-2 career record and a 6.67 ERA versus Tampa Bay.
The Red Sox are facing a number of issues coming into this series.
Even though it's still April, this is a big series for Boston, and manager Alex Cora talked about not falling too far behind after his team lost to the Yankees Wednesday.
"We just got to play better," he told the media. "It really doesn't matter if we're 8 1/2, 7 1/2 or 6 1/2 (behind). We got to play better, and we haven't done it consistently."
Injuries also are an issue for Boston now. The team's website said that second baseman Dustin Pedroia's left knee is bothering him again - he came out of Wednesday's game versus New York after just one at-bat because of it - and he's been put on the 10-day injury list as of Thursday.
Right-hander Marcus Walden was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket, but the Red Sox still have to fill the hole at second base, so another move could come. Pedroia played in just three games last year because of that knee, which held him to 105 games in 2017.
Also, the website said the team is hoping that outfielder Andrew Benintendi can come back Friday. He fouled a ball off his right foot Sunday against Baltimore, suffered a contusion and has been out since.
--Field Level Media