The Rays have come alive. After posting one win in nine games, Tampa had a lot on their plate traveling to Boston. The Red Sox were having near equal luck, both teams had lost their first eight games, but the Sox were at an advantage playing a division rival at home. Beside home field advantage, the Rays were also playing without or .
Before an audience of 6.7 million viewers on ESPN, the Rays took game one in a land slide and their secret weapon reached full stride: The Legendary Sam Fuld. Rookie Jeremy Hellickson pitched a great game, despite a disadvantage in the umpire's strikezone, and the offense finally remembered how to swing a bat - humiliating Boston.
Game two was another victory, albeit by a much smaller margin of 3-2. All three runs came in the fifth inning on four singles and a fielder's choice. Enough for to turn up the heat and go into the eighth inning for the win.
Game three is tonight. James Shields will get the nod to face John Lackey. As a change-up pitcher, Shields has a bit of a history with giving up homeruns (he gave up three in his last outing), and in the friendly Fenway he will have his work cut out for him. Yet even if Shields is at his worst, the Rays may have an advantage against Lackey.
Signed to an five-year, $82.5 million deal prior to last season, Lackey (1-1, 15.58 ERA) thus far in his Boston tenure would only be a good investment were he paid for allowing baserunners -- something he's done prolifically. The right-hander has permitted 336 runners to reach base against him since the start of 2010, the most among major league pitchers in that span.
Lackey has begun 2011 by allowing runs in eight of the nine innings in which he's appeared. Thirteen of the 17 hits he's allowed have gone for extra bases.
The former Los Angeles Angels ace gave up six runs, seven hits and two walks in five innings Friday, but was bailed out by Boston's offense...
What To Watch For
- The Rays to continue breaking out the lumber. After such a slow start, sweeping the hated enemy could be more than this team needs to get back on track.
- James Shields to record a strikeout. He failed to do so in his last appearance, although he will rebound. Strikeouts are normally not a problem for Shields, who is a mere 65 strikeouts away from becoming the Rays franchise leader in K's.
- An overlooked aspect to this series: Carl Crawford. In his first major league series against his old team he has gone 2 for 8 with one run. To this point he'd only gotten one hit in Fenway Park and batted a mere .132. If Crawford is coming out of his slump, Shields will have to be careful pitching to the new Judas. (I don't blame him for taking the money, but CC is now the enemy.)
- Speaking of Judas, Johnny Damon has finally hit his stride in Fenway, hitting his second homerun in a Rays uniform and going 5 for 9 in two games. Damon has a career average of .360 against Lackey so there's a good chance he will continue his hot hitting ways tonight.
Kyle Farnsworth walked away with a save lastnight, his second for the Rays in as many chances. He threw some brave pitches, like a 3-2 breaking ball inside to J.D. Drew. Regardless, he earned two K's and got Big Pop-up, er... David Ortiz to flew out to right field (h/t Dwayne Staats for that joke). In all seriousness, the 2011 Bullpen is well outperforming last year's. Let's hope the trend continues.