On the heels of a grueling three-game set with Milwaukee — culminating in an emotional series-salvaging walk-off home run by Steven Souza Junior — the Tampa Bay Rays will welcome the Boston Red Sox into the Trop for a brief two-game series, starting Tuesday.
The Rays didn’t look like an offensive juggernaut in the series against the Brewers. Even though they managed to salvage the last game of set, they did so by a 2-1 score, and they were blanked over the first two games. Tampa Bay has averaged just 2.00 runs per game in the last five games, yet it is 3-2 in those games as the pitching staff has performed to a 1.80 ERA over that stretch.
To put it bluntly, the Rays need to get their offense going in this series, as Boston has been strong at the plate of late. Boding in their favor though, the good guys are 30-25 here at home, where they’ve averaged just under five runs per game (4.56). The Rays start the series 5-1/2 games out of first place in the AL East, 2-1/2 games behind New York for the top Wildcard slot, and tied with Kansas City for the last Wildcard slot. Suffice it to say, they have a lot to play for in this series.
After a little slump the Red Sox are again hot. They are coming off a four-game sweep of the White Sox at Fenway, having outscored Chicago by an 11-run differential over the series. The Offense has been an issue for this team, but it is starting to catchup up with the pitching staff of late, averaging 6.5 runs per game over their last eight games.
The Rays took 3-of-4 from the Red Sox at Tropicana Field in July.
Over the next couple of days Kevin Cash will lean on Austin Pruitt (6-2, 5.65 ERA, 3.91 FIP), and Jake Odorizzi (6-4, 4.47 ERA, 5.74 FIP). John Farrell will counter with Chris Sale (13-4, 2.70 ERA, 2.07 FIP), and Rick Porcello (5-14, 4.70 ERA, 4.33 FIP).
Pruitt made his second start since getting recalled from Triple-A Durham last Wednesday, in Houston. The right-hander responded with a quality start, blanking the ‘Stros on five hits and a walk over 6-1/3 innings. All of the the hits Pruitt surrendered led off an inning, yet the right-hander played off of Houston’s aggressiveness and pitched to the margins. In doing so he induced weak contact and coaxed mishits, held the Astros to 0-for-6 wRISP — Houston went 0-for-9 overall — and kept his pitch count low. In the battle for Texas, Austin reigned supreme over Dallas Keuchel.
Sale showed signs of being human in his last start, allowing seven runs and two homers in five innings against Cleveland. Before that start, Sale had thrown 21-2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. A marquee pitcher’s duel against Carlos Carrasco turned into a Fenway Park shootout that saw 10 runners cross the plate over the first two frames, while five more score in the ninth. In his last start against the Rays, Sale allowed four runs (all earned) on seven hits, including a pair of homers. Key Matchups: Adeiny Hechavarria (2-6), Logan Morrison (5-12, HR, RBI), Trevor Plouffe (14-46, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 4 BB), Wilson Ramos (2-3, 2B, HR, 3 RBI), Mallex Smith (1-3)
Odorizzi was activated from the disabled list (retroactive to July 25) after suffering a lower back strain. He allowed two runs on three hits and no walks, while striking out six over three innings in a rehab start for the Class-A Charlotte Stone Crabs on Friday. The right-hander told Kevin Cash, “I’m ready to go … I will be back in there next time my spot comes up, so no more rehab starts.” He also told Cash that he hadn’t this good in quite a while — validating the skipper’s decision to start him against Boston on Wednesday.
Porcello had his strongest outing of 2017 at the Trop on July 8, allowing one run on six hits while striking out seven in a season-high eight innings. He, however, took a loss. Porcello most recently allowed five runs on seven hits over 5-1/3 innings against the ChiSox. With a 4.70 ERA on the season, and a 2-9 record since May 28, the Rays should be able to be competitive against the right-hander. It bears mentioning, Porcello has dropped two out of his three starts against Tampa Bay this year. Key Matchups: Peter Bourjos (2-7), Corey Dickerson (8-29, 4 2B, HR, 3 RBI), Evan Longoria (14-53, 6 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 3 BB), Brad Miller (8-29, 2 2B, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 2 BB), Mallex Smith (2-6, 3B), Steven Souza Jr. (8-27, HR, RBI, BB)