It may seem obvious, but it can’t be stated enough: if the Red Sox are to defeat the Tampa Bay Rays in the upcoming ALDS they cannot let the Rays best player, Evan Longoria, beat them. He is a dynamic force and a difference maker. In such an evenly matched series he could be the wild card.
The teams are even in terms of pitching. The Rays team ERA during the season was 3.74 and Boston’s was 3.79, ranking them 12th and 14th respectively in baseball. Expect starters to go long and scores to be kept low.
The Sox lineup overall is much stronger than the Rays. Boston led the entire sport in runs scored, OBP and OPS this season. They can grind a pitching staff down 1 through 9 with the best of them. But the Rays could negate that edge a bit with their strong pitching.
There’s really not a whole lot of difference between the two teams but the Rays have Longoria.
He represents something the Red Sox don’t have: a guy in the prime of his career who is the best player on the field and who is always in the middle of everything in big games. When teams play the Rays and their lineup is clicking it’s because Longoria is the focal point and leading the way.
If you look at Longoria’s postseason numbers in 26 career games you see a .196 career batting average, but he still has 8 HR and 18 RBI with a .735 OBP. Included in these stats is his 2008 ALCS performance vs Boston in which he went .259/.333/1.148 with 4 HR and 8 RBI in that seven game series. That’s where most of the damage occurred.
Don’t give Longoria the opportunity to be a one man wrecking crew. When he succeeds the entire Rays lineup feeds off of his energy.
In a series so closely contested and with teams that know each other so well, the Red Sox cannot let the biggest and brightest star on the field be the one to send them home early.