Series preview: Boston Red Sox (47-55) at Tampa Bay Rays (49-53)


May 30, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) hits a double driving in a run to tie the game against the Tampa Bay Rays during the seventh inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After a miserable 1-3 showing in a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Red Sox will head to Tampa Bay with one huge question looming over their head: should Boston buy or sell at the trade deadline?

If the Red Sox are swept, or even lose the series, it’s hard to imagine them considering themselves contenders. And unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately for those that believe that the Red Sox should sell, the Red Sox are facing the scorching-hot Rays, who have won seven straight and shown no signs of slowing down. Just three days ago, the Red Sox looked to be in a similarly positive position after winning five consecutive games, but three straight losses to the reeling Blue Jays obviously cuts down on that. So will this series be a matchup of two non-contenders, running on false hope, or will one of these disappointing teams prove their worth in this series?

I spoke with Rays Colored Glasses editor Robbie Knopf about the approaching series and how important it is for both teams.

1. With the trade deadline approaching and both teams on the brink of contention, this is a huge series for both teams. How will the Rays’ deadline approach change depending on whether they win or lose the series?

Peter Gammons reportedly previously that the Rays won’t consider making any trades until 48 hours before the trade deadline. With that rapidly approaching, the Rays are approaching right now like it’s the stretch run and every game matters. If the Rays get a crazy proposal for Price or Zobrist, a deal may happen regardless. However, there is a margin for error where the Rays losing a series could make them accept a slightly lesser package, and we will have to see if that happens.

2. With that in mind, what do you see happening with David Price?

Like I just alluded to, it all depends on whether a team makes a crazy proposal for Price. Will the Cardinals offer Oscar Taveras? Will the Mariners offer Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, and more? Would the Dodgers dangle Joc Pederson or Corey Seager? I think that someone will cave into the pressure, and the Rays will deal if they do. The Rays are confident enough that they can contend without David Price that they accept a deal that will make their team better in the long term.

3. Evan Longoria is having by far the worst season of his career. How much do the Rays need the old Longoria in order to contend this season?

The pitching for the Rays has been much improved, and there is no pitcher that can change the Rays’ fate. It is on the offensive side that the Rays could use a further edge, and that’s where Longoria comes in. Players like Kevin Kiermaier will cool off, but Longoria can make sure this offense maintains stability and gives the pitchers everything they need. If getting Longoria back to normal can be that “trade deadline acquisition” for the Rays, it can be more impactful than anything a team would get from David Price or Ben Zobrist.

4. You get to take one player from the Red Sox. Who is it?

I know he isn’t quite having a dynamite rookie year, but it is hard to argue with Xander Bogaerts. It is not going to be fun for the Rays playing against this guy for years to come.

Pitching Matchups:

Game 1: Jon Lester (10-7, 2.50 ERA) vs David Price (10-7, 3.06)

Without doubt, this will be the marquee pitchers’ duel of the series. Lester and Price are a pair of the elite left-handed starters in baseball and, in the American League, Chris Sale (9-1, 2.03 ERA) has been the only pitcher to even contend with them for that crown in 2014. While Lester has been slightly better this season, however, I see the Rays taking this game. Price has limited walks to a remarkable 1.2 BB/9 this season and that could prove to be a major factor against a Red Sox team which thrives by drawing walks. However, it should be a close game and a fun one to watch.

Game 2: John Lackey (11-6, 3.66 ERA) vs Chris Archer (6-5, 3.31 ERA)

In yet another strong pitching matchup, Red Sox stalwart John Lackey will face off against Rays’ youngster Chris Archer. Like the Lester-Price duel, this game could really go either way but in this case, I see it swinging in the Red Sox’ favor. Archer has struggled in his career against the Red Sox, posting a 4.81 ERA in 24.1 innings and if Lackey pitches well, the Red Sox could be able to exploit him again and take game two of the series.

Game 3: Jake Peavy (1-9, 4.72 ERA) vs Jeremy Hellickson (0-0, 2.08 ERA)

Once again, neither team has a significant pitching edge in this game. However, because of the home field advantage and Hellickson’s previous success against the Red Sox, I see it going in the way of the Rays. That is also considering that Peavy has gotten little-to-no run support this season and, frankly I don’t see that changing. However, that’s assuming that Peavy is still on the Red Sox by the time this game comes.

This is shaping up to be a huge series for the Red Sox, quite possibly the biggest of the year, and it should be a good series. Let’s get ready for some tense moments!