The Rays have continued their losing ways and now look up to the Boston Red Sox, whom they face for a short two-game series in Boston.
A short series in Boston to start a six-game road trip sounds like fun -- especially considering the Rays have been in a month-long funk. Two games in Boston is what lies immediatey ahead for the Rays. The red-hot (17-8 since June 1) Red Sox were just dealt a big blow by losing former MVP second baseman Dustin Pedroia to a broken foot. Pedroia is the latest in a string of injuries that have befallen the aging Bo-Sox. However, Boston continues to persevere from their terrible April (11-13) back into the playoff race. At 46-31, the Red Sox currently reside in second in the AL East, two games back of the New York Yankees and one game ahead of the Rays. Matchups to follow.
James Shields (6-7, 4.55) vs. John Lackey (8-3, 4.69)
Shields is trying to regain his early season form. It will be a daunting task as Fenway Park has not been kind to him (1-6 career record with a 7.53 ERA). Think of Lackey as a veteran Jeff Niemann, as he doesn't get many swing-and-misses (career-low 5.9 percent in 2010), but induces a good amount of ground balls (1.2 GB/FB ratio). Lackey's arsenal includes a 91 mph fastball, along with a curveball that he throws almost a quarter of the time. He also mixes in a slider and change-up.
Matt Garza (8-5, 4.10) vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (5-2, 4.50)
Garza did a great job of rebounding from one of the worst starts of his career, going eight innings and allowing six hits while striking out five and walking no one in picking up his eighth victory of the season. Matsuzaka is the counter-clone of Lackey. He sports a .61 GB/FB ratio while inducing swing-and-misses 9.7 percent of the time (career). Matsuzaka pitches away from contact, leading to a lot of stikeouts (8.38 career K/9) and a lot of walks (4.50 career BB/9). He throws a 92 mph fastball, a 90 mph cutter, as well as a change-up, slider and curve.
Red Sox Infield
Catcher Jason Varitek has had an amzing resurgence this year with a .374 wOBA while playing behind regular catcher Victor Martinez, allowing Martinez to play in other spots (1B and DH) to keep him fresh. Martinez continues to be one of the most feared hitting catchers in the game (.357 wOBA). Kevin Youkilis has found a new tier of amazing to hit in 2010, ranking fourth in all of baseball in wOBA (.433). SS Marco Scutaro has provided stability at the SS position that Boston hasn't had in a few years, and Adrian Beltre has recovered from his early season slump to become the player Boston hoped he would be when they inked him to a one-year, $10 million contract in the offseason. Normally I would end this portion of the preview with play-hard, play-well second baseman Dustin Pedroia, but he was just placed on the DL with the aforementioned broken foot. In his place, most of the playing time should go to Bill Hall, who will hold his own offensively (.336 wOBA).
Red Sox Outfield
Mike Cameron was brought in for his defense prior to this season, so Boston probably doesn't mind his below-average .308 wOBA. J.D. Drew may forever be the Boston whipping boy, but that didn't stop me from fearing every time he came up to bat in the ALCS in 2008 and still fearing him every time he will come up Monday and Tuesday. Newcomer Daniel Nava has been manning left field while Jeremy Hermida and Jacoby Ellsbury are injured. In a very small sample size, he has proven very good, with a .368 OBP and .490 SLG. DH David Ortiz is starting to reinvent himself as just a May-on type player; for the second consecutive season, he has overcome a terrible start to become the solid middle-of-the-lineup force he is supposed to be.
Red Sox Defense
Beltre, Cameron, and Scutaro were brought in during the offseason to be mainly defensive upgrades without being offensive liabilities. Scutaro and Beltre have lived up to expectations (combined UZR of 9.4), while Cameron has actually posted a negative UZR thus-far this season. Remember, however, that Cameron has not played that much (29 games) and going forward I expect him to do what he always does and provide solid defense in center. Drew has been great in right field as he is year in and year out. Youkilis has been average this year according to UZR (-0.1), but he is known and has been one of the best defenders at the position during his career. Hall is probably the weakest link on the infield as he has never been known as an amazing fielder. I have had trouble finding a great deal on Nava's defense other than he has average speed/range with a good arm.
The Rays had better hope they can continue their road-warrior ways because they just went 2-4 at home against teams just as good or worse than the competition they are about to play on the road.
Things to look for
If Garza picks up the win on Wednesday it will make his ninth of the season, eclipsing his 2009 total. ... Since Lackey pitches to contact the Rays will need to be a bit more aggressive to not fall behind in a lot of counts, whereas with Matsuzaka they will want to be more patient with his notoriously high walk rates.
Coolstandings has the Rays at a 29.1 percent chance of winning the division and a 28.0 percent chance to take the wildcard for a total playoff chances at 57.2%.
*All wOBA , pitch type, and UZR numbers from fangraphs.com. Shields' career numbers at Fenway from Baseball-Reference.com