Red Sox have Tampa Bay Rays starter Chris Archer’s number

Apr 8, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) reacts during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) reacts during the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

When the Boston Red Sox open their series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night they’ll face a familiar foe who they’ve had plenty of success against.

The Tampa Bay Rays have been known to develop quality pitching staffs, which has been the case again so far this year. They enter this weekend’s series at Fenway Park with a collective 3.64 ERA that ranks fifth in the American League, just ahead of the Boston Red Sox.

Tampa’s pitching presents a steep challenge, although the Red Sox can be comforted by the fact that the Rays will open the series with their ace, Chris Archer – a pitcher who Boston has historically dominated.

Archer has developed into one of the top right-handed pitchers in the league since finishing third on the Rookie of the Year ballot in 2013. He owns a career 3.49 ERA and has struck out over a batter per inning over the past five seasons since his debut.

His numbers took a bit of a dip last season, although don’t read too much into a 9-19 record that was more a product of the team around him than his abilities on the mound. His ERA inflated to 4.02 thanks in part to an uncharacteristically high home run rate, yet his more reasonable 3.81 FIP shows he pitched better than his ERA suggests. Even in what was considered a down year, Archer still logged over 200 innings and struck out 233 hitters. The former All-Star remains an elite pitcher, a power arm capable of shutting down any lineup.

Except for the Red Sox lineup.

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Sometimes a particular team just has your number and that seems to be the case for Archer with Boston. He enters this series with a 1-11 record in his career against the Red Sox, including 15 consecutive starts without a win. His 5.38 ERA against Boston is his highest for any team against whom he’s started more than five games.

It gets worse when he has to face the Red Sox on the road, as Fenway Park has become his own personal house of horrors. Archer is 0-3 with a 7.30 ERA over five career starts in Boston.

Control has been an issue for Archer when he takes the mound at Fenway, as he’s walked 20 batters in only 24 2/3 innings. His walk total equals his normally impressive strikeout total over that sample in Boston, dropping his strikeout rate to 7.2 K/9 – the lowest rate he’s recorded in any visiting ballpark.

His most recent experiences against the Red Sox have been no different, as he was 0-5 with a 5.86 ERA against Boston last season. Two of those starts came at Fenway, where he was roughed up for 11 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings.

Archer shouldn’t expect those results to improve drastically tonight. Take a look at the success several of the Red Sox regulars have had against Archer.

Andrew Benintendi: 2-for-2 (1.000)
Mitch Moreland: 2-for-4 (.500), a walk and a double (of course Mitchy Two-Bags had a double).
Hanley Ramirez: 5-for-14 (.357), three walks
Mookie Betts: 8-for-23 (.348), a double, two home runs, 6 RBI
Xander Bogaerts: 7-for-23 (.304), three walks, a double, 2 RBI
Pablo Sandoval: 3-for-10 (.300), a home run, 2 RBI

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That’s two-thirds of tonight’s projected lineup with a career average of at least .300 against Archer. About the only Red Sox hitter with significant exposure to Archer that hasn’t blasted him is Dustin Pedroia (8-for-35, .229). After the veteran second baseman started the season on an eight-game hitting streak, would anyone be surprised if he led off the bottom of the first inning with a base hit?

There’s really nowhere for Archer to hide when navigating this lineup, and it won’t get any easier with Rick Porcello matched up against him. The reigning Cy Young was 5-0 with a 3.07 ERA in six starts against the Rays last season. Oh, plus he was 13-1 with a 2.97 ERA when pitching at home in 2016.

If Archer can’t reverse this trend by quieting the Boston bats, it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to count on his offense to bail him out against Porcello.

Most teams wouldn’t be eager to face a pitcher the caliber of Archer, but that’s not the case for the Red Sox. Their lineup hasn’t been firing on all cylinders yet in the early going. Perhaps a visit from a pitcher they’ve had so much success against is just what this team needs to light the spark.

Next: Is Pomeranz more like Lester or Owens?

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