The Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox share more than just a regular-season division. They have traded blows, prospects, postseason wins, and losses, and in one case, they shared a piece of Wade Boggs‘ Hall of Fame career. But the similarities stop there, and they’ll be on display as the Sox and Rays begin their 5-game ALDS.
Rays of Sunshine
The Oakland Athletics might have brought the principles of Moneyball to the mainstream, but the Rays may have perfected it. Manager Kevin Cash‘s roster comprises low-salary, high-potency players with plenty of talent to spare. Each year it seems like the Rays are introducing us to a new potential All-Star, a new name we’ll eventually see playing somewhere else for a big contract.
At the dish, Brandon Lowe has been the center of this Rays lineup. Like Evan Longoria before him, Lowe offers consistent power and frequent liners that keep the Tampa Bay line moving. The Rays have always been a savvy hitting team, but Lowe seems to have all the makings of a well-rounded hitter. Not to mention the Tampa second baseman is 26.
In the middle of the season, the Rays made two big moves to bolster their already solid lineup, with two players on opposite ends of their careers. After the Twins woke up and realized that 2021 would not live up to the “Maybe Next Year!” advertising, the Rays acquired their heavy-hitting DH Nelson Cruz. While his numbers have dipped since heading to warmer climes, the Rays should be looking for things to turn around. Over his 17 year career and 11 postseason series, Cruz has slashed an incredible .288/.360/.659, with an OPS of 1.019. If Cruz can replicate those numbers, the Rays can relax and watch their deadline move pay off.
In a less expensive move, the Rays decided to call up highly touted prospect Wander Franco. The corresponding move meant that Willy Adames, who had handled the right side of the infield in last year’s World Series, was sent to Milwaukee. Expectations were high for Franco, and he met them with a rookie season that will undoubtedly put his name into consideration for some hardware.
But the real unsung heroes of this team are their pitchers, who earned the top spots in the American League for ERA, WHIP, and fewest walks allowed. In a division defined by its powerful bats, with every team boasting two or more home run threats, that’s quite the feat. But the postseason evens the playing field. All of those accolades are in jeopardy of becoming mere footnotes should the Rays not advance to the ALCS.
The Red Sox had +1600 odds to win the World Series ahead of the 2021 season. There was so little pomp and circumstance surrounding the Red Sox that their rise to the top of the AL East felt meteoric during the first half of the season.
And now that they’re in the postseason, and Alex Cora has a chip on his shoulder, the Red Sox have a fire in their eyes. With the hopes of proving to the league that 2018 wasn’t a fluke, the Sox are here to prove they can win without the help of nefarious actions. A tough row to hoe, but this team seems up to the challenge.
The Red Sox bats are their biggest asset. With potential home run threats sprinkled throughout the lineup, it’s hard to find a weakness in Cora’s starting nine. Even Gerrit Cole and the Yankees had issues with Kevin Plawecki and Alex Verdugo, both of whom were significant factors in the Sox Wild Card win. Going up against the best pitching staff in the American League will be a challenge, but the Red Hot Sox bats might be up to the task.
What The Future Holds
The Rays took the season series from the Red Sox 11-8, with Boston dropping nine of their thirteen second-half meetings. Anyone can see that’s a trend the Sox need to reverse if they have any chance of advancing to the ALCS.
So really, it’s going to come down to whether or not the Rays bats can take advantage of the Red Sox rotation, which happens to be their Achilles heel. If the Rays can send Cora’s pitching game plan spiraling, they might be able to keep the Red Sox playing from behind.
There’s also some pride on the line in this series that might leak into the rest of the postseason for Tampa Bay. With the plans for a split season in Montreal becoming a reality, this might be the last chance the Tampa Bay Rays have to win a ring that doesn’t include a parade in a second city. Or country for that matter. With city pride on the line, the Rays have a lot more on the line than proving the pundits wrong. It’s more than just baseball this time around for Tampa Bay.
Rays in 4.
- / 3 months ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.
- / 2 days ago
It's déjà vu all over again for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves!
- / 2 days ago
Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes It’s important to not lean too hard on hindsight...