By CBSBoston.com Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — The Red Sox have a daunting task ahead of them, with a matchup against the 100-win Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS. Boston is flying high after a thrilling Wild Card win over the Yankees on Tuesday night, but Tampa finished the year as the best team in the American League.

The Rays have a talented pitching staff and a dangerous offense, and won 11 of their 19 games against the Red Sox during the regular season. Does Boston have any shot against Tampa?

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Former Red Sox third baseman and CBS Sports HQ baseball analyst Will Middlebrooks says they absolutely do, but it’s not going to be easy. He and WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche broke down the ALDS matchup on Thursday, and Middlebrooks highlighted some keys to a Boston victory.

It starts with keeping the Rays in the ballpark.

“You look at their lineup up and down, it doesn’t look that special. But when you look at the numbers, they’re a really good team. Like the Yankees, they’re really reliant on the home run,” said Middlebrooks, who won a World Series with Boston in 2013.

The Rays finished the regular season with 222 round trippers, tied with the Yankees for the third-most in the American League.

“Damage control,” said Middlebrooks. “Pick your spots with Nelson Cruz or Austin Meadows. If there is a base open, maybe give it to them. Control that three-run homer and give yourself a chance to win.”

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The biggest key is stealing Game 1 on Thursday night at Tropicana Field, with Eduardo Rodriguez on the hill for Boston.

“It’s going to be a tough outing. It’s a really good team and Eddie has had a tough year, coming off the time he’s missed and with the COVID issues. But on the road, he seems like he’s a better pitcher,” said Middlebrooks. “His last four starts, though he hasn’t gone deep, his ERA [is 2.21]. He should be fresh; he hasn’t been throwing a ton of pitches.

“We know how he pitches. When he’s doing well, it’s fastball in, slider off, changeup away. He can get guys to chase up and below the zone,” Middlebrooks said of the Boston southpaw. “He’s going to have to get deeper in games. He has to go five, six innings.”

Middlebrooks added that Alex Cora is still figuring out the backend of the bullpen and searching for a winning combination. But Cora showed that he could do just that back in 2018, and Middlebrooks is confident the Boston skipper will do it again this postseason.

“It’s going to be a grind series. Game 1 is very important. You know what you’re getting from {Chris] Sale and [Nathan] Eovaldi in big games. [Game 1] is big. If you can take down their ace and set the tone, that is going to give [the Red Sox] a chance,” he said. “Don’t put anything past the Sox in the postseason, because they can pull anything off.”

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Check out Middlebrook’s full analysis of the upcoming Red Sox-Rays ALDS in the video above!

CBSBoston.com Staff