The Rays come home after a successful six-game road trip where they took half of a two-game set in Boston against the Red Sox before grabbing three of four in Minnesota from the Twins at the new Target Field.
Tonight marks the first game of a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox come into tonight having lost their last game to Baltimore. However, the Red Sox did take the first two in the series while playing at home.
Despite the series win, Boston continued to get bad news from the injury fairy. Both of the team's catchers, Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez, have hit the disabled list. Martinez was put on the DL on June 29 with a fractured thumb, while Varitek landed there just four days later with a broken right foot.
The Rays on the other hand are just about completely healthy, with only J.P. Howell out due to injury.
This is as crucial of a series as it gets for pre-All-Star break action, as Boston sits just a half game ahead of the Rays in the AL East, and by extension, the Wild Card standings. Taking two out of three would reverse the two teams in the standings with Cleveland coming to town for a four game set.
Matt Garza (9-5, 4.08 ERA) vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka (5-3, 4.50)
Maybe someone should just tell Matt Garza that he is facing the Red Sox every time he takes the mound because he sure seems to like pitching against them. For his career he is 7-3 with a 3.40 ERA in 15 starts against Boston. And that does not include the two victories he pulled against them in the 2008 ALCS. Matsuzaka is a placement pitcher, as he tries as hard as possible to miss as many bats as he possibly can. Daisuke features a 92 mph fastball, along with a slider, cutter, change-up, and very rarely, a curveball. The key for the Rays is to stay patient and let Matsuzaka build up his pitch count and exit the game early.
Jeff Niemann (6-2, 2.80 ERA) vs. Felix Doubront (1-0, 5.40 ERA)
Niemann's last start was very Niemann-esque. He pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing three earned runs on six hits while striking out five and walking two. He is starting to really earn the title of Mr. Consistent with me. Doubront, in very limited action this year with Boston, has used a 93 mph fastball in conjunction with a change and a curveball. He is very fastball heavy as four out of every five pitches he threw in his last start were of the fastball variety. However, he may dawn a completely different strategy this start. Until he gets more starts to develop a pattern you can't be too sure.
David Price (11-4, 2.42) vs. Time Wakefield (3-6, 4.96)
Price will make his first start since being recognized for his year-to-date accomplishments with an All-Star nod. Let's hope he continues his dominance as Wakefield has been notoriously good against the Rays in his career (20-5, 3.40). Wakefield is a knuckleballer through-and-through. He throws his knuckler almost 83 percent of the time with the remainder of his pitches coming as either a "fastball" (73 mph), or a curve.
Red Sox Offense
These are not the Red Sox you might expect due to the aforementioned injuries. Some of the expected regulars will be out there (DH David Ortiz, short stop Marco Scutaro, third baseman Adrian Beltre, center fielder Mike Cameron, right fielder J.D. Drew, and first baseman Kevin Youkilis). However, second baseman Dustin Pedroia is on the DL and for the most part will be replaced by Bill Hall. Kevin Cash will most likely do most of the catching, and left field duties will be split up between a number of options. Regardless, with Youkilis, Beltre, and Ortiz in the lineup they can still be effective, if not scary like normal.
Coolstandings.com has the Rays at a 35.2 percent chance to win the division and a 28.0 percent chance to make the wildcard, for a 63.2 percent chance to make the postseason. For reference, the Yankees are currently sporting 68.1 percent chance to make the postseason and the Red Sox themselves are only at a 54 percent chance.