The look of a man that just crushed his first career grand slam. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

After dropping two out of three to the Yankees — yet ending a three-game set on a 14-0 high note — the Tampa Bay Rays welcome the Boston Red Sox into the Trop for an important three-game series that kicks off Friday. The Red Sox are coming off a series split against the Blue Jays.

At 61-42 on the season, the Rays enter play 19-games above .500 and 1.5 games back of the Red Sox in the division. They also maintain a 3.5 game lead on the Athletics for the top AL Wildcard spot.

Tampa Bay looked awful in the first two games of the series against New York, scoring just four total runs while going 3-for-14 wRISP (.214 BA). This, after the Rays won five of the last seven contests. Yet, something clicked against Gerrit Cole in the series finale, and they again incurred damage against the right-hander, tagging him for four runs before he could even get an out in the opening frame, and eight runs total (seven earned). They chased the right-hander after just 5.1 innings. The Rays went on to plate 10 runs in the sixth inning en route to the biggest shutout in franchise history. The Rays not only went 4-for-8 wRISP in the contest, but they also mashed four homers against New York including Brett Phillips’ first career grand slam. Austin Meadows led Tampa Bay with two home runs and five RBI in the rout, giving him 20 homers and a team-best 76 RBI on the season. Cole is now 1-3 with a 5.11 ERA against the Rays in 2021.

Meanwhile, after splitting a doubleheader with Toronto on Tuesday — both contests boasted a 4-1 margin — Boston was thumped by the Blue Jays in the series finale, 13-1. The Red Sox were limited to just 2.75 runs per game over the life of the series and hit just .211 wRISP while allowing seven two-out runs.

The Rays have been strong all around, and they rank third in baseball with 46 defensive runs saved, fifth in scoring with just under five runs per game, and fourth with 61 stolen bases.

Brandon Lowe leads the team with 22 long balls and is second on the club with 52 RBI. Slugger Nelson Cruz is batting .274 with 21 home runs and 52 RBI on the season, while Mike Zunino is just behind him with 19 homers and 38 RBI.

The Red Sox are fourth in baseball, scoring five runs per game, second in slugging at a .441 SLG, and fourth with a .257 batting average. Even so, they have hovered around league average over the last two weeks, performing to a 100 wRC+ and a 3.1 wRAA.

Still, Rafael Devers is a dangerous player who leads the team with a 3.7 WAR, 27 home runs, and 82 RBI, while J.D Martinez boasts 20 home runs and 65 RBI. While Bost made a huge trade for All-Star outfielder Kyle Schwarber on Thursday, he is currently on the Injured List and should be out for some time.

While Tampa Bay is just 2-4 against Boston this season, those two wins came at home from June 22-24.

Pitching Probables

Kevin Cash will turn to Josh Fleming (7-5, 4.07 ERA), Ryan Yarbrough (6-4, 4.38 ERA), and Shane McClanahan (4-4, 3.93 ERA) over the next three days. Alex Cora will counter with Martin Perez (7-6, 4.18 ERA), Nathan Eovaldi (9-5, 3.49 ERA), and Nick Pivetta (8-4, 4.51 ERA).

Josh Fleming allowed three runs on six hits and two walks while fanning one across four innings against Cleveland on Friday. The left-hander hasn’t completed five innings in any of his last four turns, hasn’t tossed a quality start since May 1, and has allowed crooked numbers in each of his last two outings (and three of his last five) after holding Cleveland hitless on July 7. The southpaw has performed to a 4.07 ERA and a 4.56 FIP, with a 1.14 WHIP, and a 2.33 K/BB across 77.1 innings on the season.

Martin Perez allowed three runs on six hits and two walks with six strikeouts across six innings on Sunday against the Yankees. It was the 30-year-old’s first quality start since June 3 and also the first time he’s completed six innings in that span. On the season, Perez has a 4.18 ERA and a 4.49 FIP, with a 1.47 WHIP, and a 2.5 K/BB across 94.2 innings (20 starts). He is 0-0 with a 5.40 ERA in one start against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Randy Arozarena (2-6), Nelson Cruz (9-30, 2B, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 6 BB), Yandy Díaz (5-17, 2 2B, 2 RBI, BB), Brandon Lowe (2-6, 2 RBI, BB), Mike Zunino (7-24, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 2 BB)

Ryan Yarbrough allowed just one run on five hits and a walk while striking out six across seven innings in Cleveland on Sunday. Yarbrough got his only real mistake out of the way early, as Cesar Hernandez took him deep to lead off the game. Yet he tightened things up and was excellent the rest of the way in his first quality start since June 27. Yarbrough lowered his ERA to 4.38 and his FIP to 4.16, with a 1.19 WHIP, and a 4.5 K/BB across 109 innings. He is 0-1 with a 14.14 ERA in two outings (one start) against Boston this season.

Nathan Eovaldi allowed two earned runs on seven hits and no walks while striking out eight across 7.2 innings on Saturday against New York. Eovaldi held the Yankees scoreless through seven innings but ran into trouble in the eighth when he allowed a leadoff double prior to a run-scoring single. When he was pulled from the game, he was staked to a 3-1 lead, yet the bullpen blew his lead and the game by allowing three additional runs to cross the plate in the frame. Even so, Eovaldi was excellent and racked up 22 called strikes and 14 swinging strikes on 100 total pitches. He has allowed two runs or fewer in seven of his last 10 starts — six of which he allowed one or no earned runs. For the season, the former Ray maintains a 3.49 ERA and a 2.48 FIP, with a 1.18 WHIP, and a 5.43 K/BB across 116 innings. He is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in one start against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Ji-Man Choi (3-10, 2B, RBI), Nelson Cruz (2-6, 2B, HR, RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (3-11, 3B, 4 RBI, 2 BB), Manuel Margot (1-4), Austin Meadows (6-12, 2 2B, HR, 3B, 3 RBI, BB), Francisco Mejía (1-3, 2B), Joey Wendle (5-9, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, BB)

Shane McClanahan allowed three runs on nine hits and three walks over six innings against the Yankees on Tuesday. He struck out six. The rookie wasn’t especially sharp, tossing 60 of 89 pitches for strikes (67% strike rate), yet he pitched well enough to earn his third quality start of the season — all of which have come in his last six starts. And while he found his way into a few jams, especially in the first three frames, he also found his way out of them, coaxing a pair of double plays, while also getting a little help from Manuel Margot, who made an outstanding sliding catch in right to end the sixth inning. McClanahan boasts a solid 3.34 ERA with a 1.21 WHIP, and a 3.17 K/BB across 32.1 innings over that six-game stretch.

Nick Pivetta allowed four runs on six hits and two walks while striking out three across 4.2 innings against Toronto on Monday. The right-hander allowed four runs or more for the fourth time in his last five starts, and Monday was the third time in that span he’s failed to complete five frames. Pivetta’s inconsistency has led to a 4.51 ERA and a 4.31 FIP, with a 1.34 WHIP, and 2.5 K/BB through 107.2 innings this season. Even so, he is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA in two shutout starts against the Rays this season. Key Matchup: Randy Arozarena (1-4, BB)

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