Rays set to take on surprising Red Sox in Boston

BOSTON — The Rays will be looking to extend their run of improved play when they open a four-game series against the Red Sox tonight at Fenway Park.

After a 14-18 start that left them four games under .500, the Rays went 6-3 on the just-concluded homestand against the Mets, White Sox and Yankees that was marked by a stronger offensive showing.

But they will be challenged to maintain that production against a Red Sox pitching staff that, under new coach Andrew Bailey and an organizational shift in philosophy, unexpectedly has the lowest ERA in the majors. At 2.75, the Sox are a decent margin ahead of the Yankees (3.10).

Especially impressive has been the work of the rotation which, despite having to use nine starters due to injuries, leads the majors with a 2.45 ERA.

The Red Sox’s top starter, and the pitcher for tonight’s series opener, is Kutter Crawford (2-1, 1.75 in eight starts), who tends to pitch well against the Rays anyway. A familiar face in the rotation is Cooper Criswell, who spent parts of 2022-23 with the Rays while shuttling between Tampa Bay and Triple-A Durham. With the Sox, Criswell is 2-1, 2.10 in six games (five starts). The Rays also scheduled are to face Nick Pivetta (1-2, 3.50) and Tanner Houck (3-4, 2.24).

The net result is a 21-19 record and third-place standing in the AL East despite losing several key offensive players to injury, including shortstop Trevor Story and first baseman Tristan Casas.

The Rays, 20-21 and looking up at the Sox, know what’s ahead as the teams play Monday-Thursday in Boston, then May 20-22 at Tropicana Field.

“They’ve pitched well,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Sunday’s game against the Yankees at the Trop. “They’ve had some big injuries to Casas and Trevor Story, and it seems like they’ve weathered the storm offensively because of how well they’ve thrown the ball.

“Our first guy we face is Kutter Crawford; he’s pitched us tough in the past. He’s got really good stuff. ... There’s no doubt they’ve done a nice job pitching.”

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