Following a season in which the Red Sox lost 12 of 18 contest’s against the Tampa Bay Rays, it was vital that they find a way to beat them in the new season. The first two games played between the two have exposed what looks to be the Achilles heal of a team built around their starting pitching.
Tampa Bay’s bullpen has holes–even more so than their offense–and it could be the key to the keeping them out of the playoffs for the first time in three years.
The first two games of the long season series between the Sox and Rays have shown that if you can get the starters out early, this team can be beat with relative ease.
In the first game the Red Sox were able to work David Price and relieve him of his duties after a mere three innings, giving way for an offensive barrage in the eighth inning off Joel Peralta and Josh Leuke. The Sox were able to push across 8 ER in the eighth inning in that contest, turning a 4-2 game into an out of reach 12-2 blow out.
In the second game on Saturday the Red Sox grinded against reigning Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, knocking him out of the game after five innings in which he gave up 5 ER. When Hellickson left the game it was still a 5-5 tie but again the Tampa Bay bullpen would struggle mightily in the late innings.
It started in the seventh when Mike Aviles broke the tie with a solo shot into the parking lot behind Fenway Park and continued with a Cody Ross 2-run double later in the inning to make it 8-5 Red Sox–still in reach for the Rays right? Not for long.
In the eighth Joe Maddon sent Dane De La Rosa–called up from AAA to replace Josh Leuke–to the mound only to see him struggle in the eighth inning as well. The Red Sox got a bases clearing 3-Run double from David Ortiz and a 2-Run homer from Cody Ross to put the game out of reach at 13-5 and prove on consecutive nights that the Rays’ bullpen wasn’t up to the task.
If the Red Sox plan on beating the Rays more times than not in 2012, that’s the way they’re gonna do it. Work the starters, get them out of the game early and have your way with that mouthwatering bullpen.