BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox dispatched the New York Yankees in gratifying fashion in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday night. Their reward? A showdown with the 100-win Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS.
Tampa Bay was one of just three teams to hit the century mark in wins in 2021, and the only American League team to do so. The Rays are in the postseason for the third straight season, losing to the L.A. Dodgers in the World Series in 2020 and falling to the Astros in the ALDS in 2019 after winning the Wild Card game.
The Rays hit the 2021 playoffs on a roll, winning seven of their last 10 games. The Red Sox are flying high after their 6-2 victory over the Yankees, but had to claw their way into the postseason over the final few weeks. That has mostly been forgiven following Tuesday night’s outcome.
Now they have to give everything they’ve got — and likely a little bit more — if they want to defeat the Rays in a best-of-five series. This will mark the third time that the AL East foes will meet in the playoffs, with each winning a series. Tampa was victorious in the 2008 ALCS, beating a loaded Red Sox team in seven games, while Boston beat the Rays in four games in the 2013 ALDS en route to a World Series title.
As for the present, here’s what you need to know about the upcoming Division Series.
Boston won its first four games against Tampa, but the Rays won the season series 11-8. Tampa rattled off six straight wins after those first four games, and won four of its five series against Boston, splitting one four-game set. The Rays swept one of the series, taking a three-game set in St. Pete in late-July/early-August.
The Red Sox outscored the Rays 106-104 over their 19 games, thanks in large part to 11-2, 9-2 and 20-8 wins. That Aug. 12 rout at Fenway Park was Boston’s biggest in six years, as the Sox had a 5-0 lead after two innings, jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the fifth, and took a 20-1 lead into the ninth inning before the Rays put up a touchdown. Bobby Dalbec drove in five that evening, while Xander Bogaerts and Hunter Renfroe each drove in four.
One of Tampa’s biggest wins of the season came in their last series against the Sox, as they erased a six-run second-inning deficit on Sept. 6 at Fenway Park. The Rays had the bases loaded when Alex Verdugo lost a ball in the sun in the fourth inning, and all four Rays scored as Boston committed two errors on the play. The Red Sox had a 9-7 lead heading into the eighth inning, but Nelson Cruz blasted a solo homer in the eight and Austin Meadows tied it with an inside-the-park homer in the top of the ninth. Tampa plated a pair of runs in the top of the 10th to steal a 11-10 win in Boston.
The Rays took the next game, 12-7, before the Red Sox avoided a sweep with a 2-1 win in the series finale thanks to a two-run blast by Renfroe in the eighth. The outfielder ended the game when he gunned down Joey Wendle at third base in the top of the ninth.
Xander has come on strong as of late, and his first-inning homer against Gerrit Cole on Tuesday night was the catalyst of Boston’s Wild Card win. He was also really stinkin’ good against the Rays this year, hitting .429 with two homers, two doubles, 10 RBIs and 13 runs scored over 14 games. Boston is going to need X to stay hot to have a chance in the ALDS.
Renfroe pummeled his former team as well, going 25-for-74 at the dish with four homers and 11 doubles while driving in 18 runs. Dalbec had six extra-base hits against Tampa in his 15 games against them, with four homers, a double and a triple.
A big wild card for Boston is the health of J.D. Martinez, who missed Tuesday’s game with a sprained ankle he suffered in the regular season finale. Boston hopes to have his bat back this series, but that is no guarantee.
On the Tampa side, the Rays had the highest scoring offense in franchise history in 2021 and led the majors in runs scored. Brandon Lowe has been swinging some serious lumber all season and has been hot as of late, hitting five homers and driving in 11 over his last five games. Three of those homers came in one game against the Yankees, and left the yard 39 times for the season. The second baseman had five bombs, drove in 12 runs and scored 14 others in his 18 games against Boston.
Catcher Mike Zunino hit just .216 for the year but he mashed 33 homers, six of which came against Red Sox pitching. He hit .282 against Boston during the regular season.
The Rays are not known for their high batting average, but they can absolute knock the cover off the ball. Meadows hit 27 homers and drove in 106 runs, while Randy Arozarena had 20 dingers to go with 32 doubles and 94 runs scored.
Kevin Cash will send a pair of rookies to the mound in Games 1 and 2: Shane McClanahan (10-6, 3.43 ERA, a team-high 141 strikeouts in 25 starts) and Shane Baz (2-0, 2.03 in three starts), respectively.
McClanahan made three starts against Boston. He tossed five shutout innings on Sept. 8 and earned a no decision in a 2-1 Red Sox win, and took a loss a week prior when he was tagged for four runs off eight hits in five innings in a 4-0 Boston win in Tampa. He earned his lone victory over the Red Sox on Aug. 1, fanning seven over six innings of one-run ball in a 3-2 Rays win at Tropicana Field. Boston hit just ,246 against the 24-year-old southpaw. Renfroe was the only Sox hitter to get an extra-base hit off McClanahan — a solo homer in a losing effort.
Baz, a 22-year-old righty, allowed just three earned runs over his three starts, making his pro debut on Sept. 20 against the Blue Jays. Toronto hit a pair of solo homers off Baz, but he earned the win in the 6-4 Rays victory. He punched out nine Marlins over 5.2 innings his next time out. He pitched just 2.2 innings against the Yankees in his third start, but Tampa had a 7-1 lead when he was pulled in the third inning.
Cash said that Drew Rasmussen (who was picked up from the Brewers in May) will likely get the nod in Game 3, depending on bullpen usage in the first two games. The righty went 4-0 with a 2.44 ERA in 20 games for the Rays, 10 of which were starts. He allowed four runs off 13 hits over 15.2 innings of work against Boston over three starts and two appearances out of the bullpen.
For Boston, Alex Cora has named Eduardo Rodriguez his Game 1 starter, and said that Chris Sale will probably get the ball in Game 2. Nate Eovaldi will likely get the nod in Game 3 at Fenway on Sunday.
E-Rod was 1-1 against Tampa this season over four starts, allowing 11 runs over 21 innings off 23 hits, including four homers. He recently tossed six shutout innings at Tropicana Field on Sept. 2.
Sale made a pair of starts against the Rays and earned no decisions in each, allowing 16 hits and walking three over 9.2 innings. (He was on the bump when Verdugo lost the ball in the sun, which brought an end to what was going down as a pretty good afternoon for the lefty.)
Eovaldi was the best of the bunch, as he was against most of Boston’s opponents, going 2-1 with a 2.39 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in four starts against his former team. He fanned 31 Rays over 26.1 innings.
Nick Pivetta, who could get the call in Game 4, was 1-2 against Tampa in his four starts with a 2.95 ERA, allowing seven runs over 21.1 innings off 11 hits. Walks were his biggest issue against the Rays, as he issued 12 free passes.
The Rays throw a lot of relievers out there. A lot. And Cash is never afraid to call upon his bullpen early in games. Rays relievers tossed a major league-high 703 innings and sported a sparkling 3.24 ERA, which was the best in the AL and third-best in baseball behind the San Francisco Giants and L.A. Dodgers. Tampa closer Andrew Kitteridge has been a bit shaky as of late, allowing six runs off 14 hits (including five homers) in his last 10 outings. But he had a save and picked up two wins in his appearances against Boston this season (including one start), holding the Sox scoreless over 7.1 innings.
Red Sox relievers had a 3.99 ERA on the year, ranking 13th in baseball. There is a lot of unknown regarding the bullpen at the moment, though Chaim Bloom and Cora likely has a spreadsheet mapping out every situation for the upcoming series. Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino both struggled against Tampa during the regular season, posting identical stat lines of four runs over 4.1 innings against the Rays. Tanner Houck was throwing absolute BBs in the Wild Card game, as he did against the Rays during season, punching out 10 over six innings. He did, however, allow three runs off seven hits in his two outings.
Hansel Robles (four scoreless innings with a save) and Hirokazu Sawamura (one hit in just 3.1 innings) both put up zeroes against Tampa during the regular season.
Keys For A Sox Series Win
Steal A Win In Tampa: We’re taking on the role of Captain Obvious here, but the Red Sox were just 3-7 in St. Petersburg this season. Splitting the first two games likely means they head back to Boston with Eovaldi on the hill in Game 3.
Get To Tampa’s Starters: If you thought the Boston bullpen pitched a lot this season, the Rays will tell you to hold their beer. Knocking out Tampa’s starters early will further tax a pen that has been putting in a lot of work this year, and could give the Sox a puncher’s chance.
Unfortunately the Rays bullpen has been up to the task, so this may not actually help Boston’s odds. The Rays are really, really good.
Bullpen Consistency: In an ideal world, Red Sox starters will go out and give Cora six-plus every night. That just isn’t a reality with this staff, so the bullpen needs to be phenomenal. The resurgence of Ryan Brasier helps, as does the return of Garrett Whitlock, but the bullpen as a whole needs to be in shutdown mode against a Rays lineup that can do some serious damage.
The Sox are basically going with closer-by-committee, which is always an adventure.
“We will keep mixing and matching and we’ll try to maximize our roster,” Cora said Wednesday, adding that he’ll be using starters our of the bullpen as well.