Apr 23, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher John Lackey (41) throws a pitch during the first inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays vs Boston Red Sox


After struggling to find their bearings for much of the early season, the Red Sox have been getting their act together in recent weeks. The Red Sox had won four of five before dropping a series to the Yankees; however, the Sox are coming off a series win in Toronto and are looking to keep the good times rolling as they begin a homestand. The Tampa Bay Rays will be in town for a three-game set in what could very well be the biggest series of the young season for the Red Sox as they look to rise above the .500 mark against a formidable opponent in the Rays. In anticipation of this big series, we asked Robbie Knopf, editor of Fansided’s resident Rays blog Rays Colored Glasses, a few questions about the current state of the Rays.

1. Before the season, many predicted an improved offense for the Rays featuring Evan Longoria and a full season of Wil Myers. Has that held true so far? 
The Rays’ offense has been extremely inconsistent so far this year, scoring seven or more runs seven times but two or less 11 times. Just six times this year have they scored between three and six runs. That’s actually crazy. For some perspective, the Red Sox have already done that 15 times.
The Rays have an abundance of players off to hot starts, specifically Matt Joyce, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, Desmond Jennings, James Loney, and Ryan Hanigan. However, Wil Myers is the only player on the team with an OPS+ between 70 and 110. Everyone is either hitting extremely well or doing nothing at all, and that is leading to all the variability in run scored. Some of these players are going to cool down, but the Rays have to hope that players like Yunel Escobar, David DeJesus, and Logan Forsythe can get something going to make up the difference. This is a good offense, but it is going to keep driving everyone insane until its performance stops fluctuating so much.
2. Do you expect the Rays’ starting pitching depth to adequately replace Matt Moore (out for the year) and Alex Cobb (out 4-6 weeks)? Who needs to step up?
Times like these are why the Rays have built up so much starting depth. They entered the year with six quality starters, and every few years, a bunch of injuries happen and that still is not enough.
It all starts with the three regular starters the Rays have left: David Price, Chris Archer, and Jake Odorizzi. Price is an ace, Archer has electric stuff, and Odorizzi continues to show the talent that won him the fifth starter spot to begin the year, but they have all been inconsistent and they have to change that immediately.
Replacing Moore and Cobb so far are Cesar Ramos and Erik Bedard. Ramos has looked very good his last two starts while Bedard has been a disaster, but even Ramos is going to adjust to the league in a matter of time. The key for the Rays is going to be to find a couple solid replacement starters until Jeremy Hellickson and Cobb return. Those players are going to come from Triple-A, and there are a few interesting options.
Mike Montgomery, the former Kansas City Royals top prospect, is off to a hot start at Triple-A for the first time in far too long, even tossing 8.1 no-hit innings in his last start. His next start could very well be in the big leagues. Another option is Matt Andriese, who is off to a solid start at Triple-A and impresses with his sinker-slider-splitter arsenal. The depth does not stop there, with Nate Karns off to a rough start but also nearly ready and Enny Romero impressing in the spot-start he made last year. There is no guarantee that any one of them will be the pitcher the Rays need to survive this stretch, but with so many available options, you have to think the Rays will find at least one or two pitchers capable of keeping them afloat.
3. Who are some highly-touted minor leaguers that you expect to contribute at the MLB level this year?
The player around the Rays that everyone is raving about is Kevin Kiermaier. Originally called up to be a defensive replacement in Game 163 last year, Kiermaier had an outfield assist that proved to be the difference in a 1-0 Rays win when he made his first MLB start this year. His defense is spectacular, and his hitting and baserunning abilities continue to improve. Kiermaier has gone from relatively unheralded prospect to a possible everyday centerfielder in the span of a year-and-a-half. If David DeJesus and their bench players continue to struggle, the Rays will have a tough time keeping Kiermaier down at Triple-A.
Aside from Kiermaier, the big names are the pitching prospects mentioned above. Karns and Romero provide electric stuff, Andriese is interesting as a sinkerballing mid-rotation type, and Montgomery is a player to watch as we see whether he can recapture his previous luster as a prospect.
4. Who wins the AL East and why?
If you asked me that prior to the season, I would have picked the Rays in a second. But now things are less clear-cut. These injuries to Moore and Cobb are a big deal, and the Rays’ rotation has been in shambles. But the Rays can get through this and there is no other team in the division that has the talent the Rays possess. The Yankees’ infield is a mess. The Red Sox need to figure out their rotation and centerfield. The Orioles just lost Chris Davis and don’t scare anyone with their rotation. Finally, I am still not sold of anything with the Blue Jays. Somebody better take advantage of these April and May games with the Rays shorthanded because they are going to go on a run when Cobb and Hellickson return. I am still picking the Rays until some team in this division makes it clear that they are the frontrunner.
Game Schedule:
Game One: April 29, 7:10 ET
                            Erik Bedard (0-1, 7.45 ERA) vs John Lackey (3-2, 4.22 ERA)
Game Two: April 30, 7:10 ET
                            Chris Archer (2-1, 4.11 ERA) vs Felix Doubront (1-3, 6.00 ERA)
Game Three: May 1, 7:10 ET
                                Cesar Ramos (1-1, 3.38 ERA) vs Jake Peavy (1-0, 2.87 ERA)
This is a big series for the Red Sox (12-14). A sweep could help them move to 15-14 and over .500, and a series win could bring them to just a game below that mark. The often-elusive .500 mark has struck again in 2014 and a good series against the Rays could help add some fire to a lackluster Red Sox team. Let’s see it happen.

Tags: Boston Red Sox Featured Popular Series Preview Tampa Bay Rays