After a well-needed off-day on Monday, the Tampa Bay Rays look to get back on track when the Boston Red Sox come into town for a two-game series. Tampa Bay went 4-1 on the opening homestand, yet lost all five games on the team’s first road trip, averaging just 2.6 runs per game. Boston was swept by the Yankees and also had a Monday off-day.
The Rays trailed in four of their five road games (nine of 10 overall), and had to deal with multi-run deficits in the majority of them. They scored first just one of those games and just two overall this season, the lowest total in the American League. On Sunday, Tampa Bay was down by just one run until the sixth inning, yet the bullpen gave up three in the seventh as the game slipped away. Looking at things from a similar perspective, 3/4 of their wins this season have been of the come-from-behind variety, and that’s not a sustainable game-winning strategy over the long-haul.
A team-wide .210 BA/.303 OBP/.368 SLG/.671 OPS slash line certainly hasn’t helped the cause. And while the Rays are drawing walks at a decent clip, a 24.7% strikeout rate, paired with the aforementioned slash line, tends to drown out any superlatives.
As Joe Smith (The Athletic) writes, some positives have bled through, although the big boppers have left a lot to be desired.
There have been some bright spots, like a healthy Joey Wendle hitting .292, Renfroe providing some pop (two homers, seven RBIs) and Lowe’s team-leading eight RBIs (.286 average). Willy Adames is getting on base (.438 on-base percentage)
But you look at Kevin Kiermaier (.200 batting average), Yoshi Tsutsugo (.200), Ji-Man Choi (.167, 11 strikeouts) and Yandy Díaz (.167), there’s plenty of guys who have more to give. Renfroe, despite his power, is hitting .182. Catcher Mike Zunino is off to a 2-for-23 start (.087 batting average). Anderson believes they’re bound to snap out of some of their slumps.— Joe Smith
Meanwhile, the Red Sox have allowed the second-most runs per game in the American League, yet they have been marginally better at the plate, outpacing them in slugging (.425), OPS (.741), ISO (.168), wOBA (.324), wRC+ (105), and wRAA (3.3). They will enter the series with their two best hurlers on the mound.
Smith also made mention of the intangibles that are currently impacting Tampa Bay.
There have been some uncharacteristic mistakes both defensively and on the basepaths, as shown during the series in Baltimore. Adames already committed his fourth error of the season on Saturday, with the Rays leading the AL with 10. They had two more errors in four of their last seven games.
Cash said Sunday that he knows players like Adames will continue to work on their defense, and the key as a staff is to remain positive with them, knowing that they’re fully capable of executing. We’ve already seen Kiermaier flash his Gold Glove-caliber defense, including a highlight-reel relay throw.— Joe Smith
In short, this is a must-win series against an AL East rival that is also faltering. If the Rays want to come out of this series at .500, they must turn up the heat in the batter’s box. And if that means temporarily benching Renfroe, Kiermaier, Zunino, and Margot, so be it. Moreover, the fielders must become more dependable, and the pitching staff, which is still ninth in the league with a 3.76 ERA, cannot afford to give up any late runs as it had in Atlanta and Baltimore.
Kevin Cash will throw Charlie Morton (0-1, 8.00 ERA) and Ryan Yarbrough (0-1, 1.54 ERA) over the next two days. Ron Roenicke will counter with Nathan Eovaldi (1-0, 2.45 ERA), and Martín Pérez (1-1, 5.06 ERA).
Charlie Morton bounced back nicely from his Opening Day start, throwing five innings of two-run ball, allowing six hits, and one walk while striking out seven. He threw 80 pitches (55 strikes, 69% strike rate), and coaxed 13 swings and misses (24% whiff rate). Morton’s second start of the season was a marked improvement over his first in which he allowed six earned runs. The right-hander was hurt by a third-inning two-run blast off the bat of Freddie Freeman, although he held Atlanta scoreless in each of his other four frames. Morton was the beneficiary of three defensive gems during his outing, which limited the damage against him.
In the first inning, Ronald Acuña Jr. tried to score from first on a double to right-center. However, Kevin Kiermaier threw a bullet to Brandon Lowe, who then fired to Mike Zunino to cut down Acuña Jr. at the plate.
Then, down by a pair in the third inning, Kiermaier made a sliding catch to rob Matt Adams of a hit with a runner aboard, preventing another run from crossing the plate.
Finally, in the fifth inning, Manuel Margot made a leaping catch against the left-field wall to take away an extra-base hit from Adams and a run or two.
Morton is 5-1 with a 4.09 ERA in nine career starts against the Red Sox.
Nathan Eovladi, the former Ray, allowed two runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out four across five innings against the Mets. At 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP, Eovaldi is the clear ace of the Red Sox staff. Still, the right-hander’s boasts a two steps forward one step back track record, which the Rays anemic offense will try to remind him of on Tuesday. In case you forgot, Eovaldi relies primarily on a 97 mph four-seam fastball with natural sinking action and slight arm-side run and a whiffy 90 mph slider, while also mixing in an 88 mph splitter with natural sink, a 93 mph cutter, and a 79 mph curveball with sharp downward bite and glove-side movement. Over his career against Tampa Bay, he is 2-4 with a 5.45 ERA. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (2-6), Kevin Kiermaier (3-9, 3B), Joey Wendle (3-5, 2B, HR)
Ryan Yarbrough was charged with a tough-luck loss against Atlanta on Thursday, allowing just two runs on two hits and three walks while striking out six across 6-1/3 innings. Yarbrough worked his way into a second-inning jam after hitting Adam Duvall with a pitch, then allowing Dansby Swanson to score on Marcell Ozuna’s on an RBI single. Later, he surrendered Atlanta’s final run of the night on a sac-fly to Austin Riley. Yet it was an otherwise effective performance as the southpaw threw 56 of 87 pitches for strikes (64% strike rate). Unfortunately, the offense failed to provide enough run support to get him the win. The finesse lefty is 3-1 with a 4.84 ERA in nine career outings (three starts) against Boston.
Martín Pérez allowed two runs on two hits and four walks while striking out five across 5-2/3 innings against the Mets on Thursday. Pérez was effective in all but the third inning when he walked two batters and hit another, loading the bases for Jeff McNeil, who singled into left field to drive in two. It was a bounce-back performance from Pérez after he surrendered four earned runs in his first start with Boston. The 29-year-old southpaw relies primarily on an 88 mph cutter with strong cutting action and a whiffy 83 mph circle changeup with some natural sink, while also mixing in a 91 mph sinker, a 91 mph four-seam fastball, and a 77 mph 12-6 curveball. Pérez is 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA in 10 career outings (eight starts) against Tampa Bay). Key Matchup: Mike Zunino (6-18)
— The Rays have reinstated Austin Meadows (COVID-19) from the Injured List and optioned RHP Trevor Richards to the alternate training site in Port Charlotte.
— The Rays announced that they have placed OF Manuel Margot on the bereavement list due to the death of his father, and they have recalled OF Brian O’Grady from the Port Charlotte alternate site camp.
During Spring Training, O’Grady hit two home runs and posted a 1.139 OPS across 25 plate appearances. His success continued into Summer Camp when he decimated pitches once again.
Our thoughts go out to the Margot family for their loss.
— Hey Red Sox, we aren’t fans of Massholes or uninformed opinions. Kindly wear a mask, don’t leave your hotel rooms, wash your hands, and stay socially distant from one another to help us stave off another COVID-19 spike.