The end is nigh. Six road games separate the Tampa Bay Rays from a long off-season — the death knell of their first non-winning season in six years. First stop Boston, where they’ll take on the Red Sox in the sixth and final series against the two AL East foes.
While I’d hate to acknowledge as much, the similarities between two abound. Both were projected to be at the top of the AL East — yet they sit at the bottom of their division, both have been massively less than stellar, and both have gone through their own share of offensive power outages.
For the Rays, if they hope to finish the season with a .500 record, they’ve got to sweep both Boston and Cleveland. At 68-88, the Red Sox are one win shy of equaling their 2012 total, which marked their worst in a non-strike season since 1965. They surprisingly won road series from Kansas City and Baltimore on a 10-game trip. While the Rays hold a 9-7 advantage in the season series, the Red Sox swept the good guys in their last series in Boston (from May 30-June 1). The two teams split the most recent meeting at The Trop.
Clay Buchholz: Buchholz (8-9, 5.29 ERA) threw a three-hitter in a 3-0 win at The Trop on August 31. The Alberto VO-5 was in full effect in that start which began a three-start winning streak — that streak was snapped in Wednesday’s 9-1 loss at Pittsburgh. The RHP is 8-5 with a 2.21 ERA in 17 career starts against the Rays. He hasn’t given up a run over his last 22 innings in winning three straight meetings. Key matchups: David DeJesus (4-11, 2B, 3 BB), Matt Joyce (7-25, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 4 BB), Kevin Kiermaier (1-4), Jose Molina (8-25, 2B, 4 RBI, BB).
Anthony Ranaudo: As I previously wrote of Ranaudo (3-3, 5.29 ERA), the 24-year-old RHP took the spot of the recently departed John Lackey. Ranaudo features a mid 90′s fastball which he’s able to execute down in the zone, a good curveball, and a change that he can throw against both righties and lefties. Tampa Bay tagged him for three runs in a losing venture against the Red Sox August 29. Key matchups: Yunel Escobar (1-3), Brandon Guyer (1-3, 2 RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (1-2, RBI), James Loney (1-3), Wil Myers (1-3).
Allen Webster: Webster (3-2, 5.81 ERA) put together a good three hit/two run outing against Tampa Bay back at the end of July — his first start with the Red Sox. However, in his last start against the Rays, he was tagged for six runs on five hits in four innings of work. Key matchups: Logan Forsythe (1-3, BB), Nick Franklin (1-2), Brandon Guyer (1-2), Ryan Hanigan (1-1, RBI), James Loney (1-4, 2B, RBI), Ben Zobrist (1-4, 2 RBI, 2 BB).
Per Marc Topkin,
RHP Alex Cobb also wishes the stakes were higher. But — with an April oblique strain keeping him from once again pitching a full season in the majors — he takes the mound tonight, and in Sunday’s season finale, with a purpose: to garner experience pushing himself at the end of the season.
Almost a practice session for years to come,” Cobb said.
“It’s tough. Guys are beat up, arms are tired. Proving you can do that, understanding your body, knowing it’s going to be a little bit different than when your arm is feeling fresh and live, it’s just something you want to prove to yourself that when you get to pressure situations late in September next year, hopefully when we’re in it, it’s not something new.”
There is another benefit for Cobb: He needs 82/3 innings for the 162 to qualify for the AL ERA leaderboard. He currently would rank sixth at 2.82.