Red Sox have uncharacteristically struggled against Chris Archer

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 02: Chris Archer
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 02: Chris Archer /

The Boston Red Sox will face Tampa Bay Rays ace Chris Archer Friday night, a pitcher they once dominated up until this season.

Chris Archer will take the mound when the Tampa Bay Rays come to Fenway Park for the start of a three-game weekend series. The hard-throwing right-hander was once an opponent Boston Red Sox fans were delighted to face, yet that hasn’t been the case this season.

While Archer has been among the American League’s top starting pitchers over the last handful of seasons, he had historically struggled with Boston’s lineup. Entering this year, Archer was 1-11 with a 5.37 ERA over 16 career starts against the Red Sox. Fenway had been his own personal house of horrors, where he owned a brutal 7.29 ERA.

The script has been flipped this season, with the Rays triumphing over the Red Sox in each of his two starts against them. Archer earned a win during his last trip to Boston back in April, when he held the Red Sox to one run over 5 2/3 innings. He wasn’t quite as sharp when he met the Red Sox down in Tampa Bay in July, surrendering three runs over 6 2/3 innings. It was a strong enough effort to keep his team in the game, so while he settled for a no-decision, the Rays would go on to win that game as well.

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What changed? Archer is having a great season, posting a 3.76 ERA and ranking third in the league in strikeouts. Those are good numbers, but he’s hardly having a career year. His ERA was lower in each season between 2013-2015. This is partially attributed to the continuation of the gopher ball issues that plagued Archer last year. Archer has coughed up 24 home runs this season, two of which were against the Red Sox.

His 11.29 K/9 and 4.33 K/BB ratio are both the best of his career, but he’s posted below his season-average rates in both categories against Boston this year. Archer has struck out 13 Red Sox hitters over 12 1/3 innings this season – a strong strikeout rate, although not at his elite season rate. He’s also walked four batters, giving him a 2.9 BB/9 ratio that equals his career average rather than his career-best season rate.

Boston is batting .280 against Archer this season, so it’s not as if he’s baffling this Red Sox lineup. They are getting their fair share of hits, they simply haven’t been able to string enough together to drive in more runs. This seems like a bit of a small sample size fluke for a team that ranks fifth in the league with a .269 average with runners in scoring position.

This also isn’t the same Red Sox lineup that Archer has faced in years past. Not without David Ortiz, who had long been a thorn in his side. It’s still an above-average offense though, with a number of hitters who have had success against Archer – including Andrew Benintendi (.429), Mookie Betts (.379), Hanley Ramirez (.350) and Xander Bogaerts (.286).

The limited results we’ve seen from Archer against the Red Sox this year don’t suggest that he’s suddenly figured this team out. He isn’t getting pounded like he has in the past, but this lineup is still capable of getting to him.

While I wouldn’t expect the Red Sox to light up Archer tonight, they won’t necessarily have to. Tampa Bay has scored the fewest runs in the league since the break and will be facing Drew Pomeranz, who has been even better than Archer this year.

Next: September Standings Watch

If Boston can put up at least a few runs against Archer it should put them in position to add to his woes against this franchise.