Boston Red Sox series with Tampa Bay Rays could be a trap
By Sean Penney
The Boston Red Sox can’t afford to overlook the Tampa Bay Rays, a team they will see plenty of over the next couple of weeks.
The Boston Red Sox have an important series looming against a potential playoff foe next week but before they invite the Cleveland Indians to town they’ll host the Tampa Bay Rays.
That may not seem like a daunting task on the surface. The Rays are barely above .500, sitting 23.5 games behind Boston in the standings. The Red Sox are 9-4 against them this season. Tampa Bay has sold off talented players such as Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos, and Alex Colome.
It would be easy to view these facts as a reason to overlook the Rays but make no mistake. They are no pushover.
Boston owns a strong record against these Rays, although most of that came in the opening weeks of the season. The Red Sox lost on Opening Day in Tampa before reeling off six consecutive wins against their division rival. The Rays have undergone a significant transformation since those initial seven meetings wrapped on April 8.
While they started out strong, Boston’s track record against Tampa Bay has evened out. They are 3-3 against the Rays since that 6-1 start in head-to-head meetings.
The postseason is a pipedream for Tampa Bay yet they can still be a thorn in the side of those teams aspiring to reach the October stage. The pesky Rays have taken four out of six against the New York Yankees since the All-Star break, including two out of three in the Bronx this week.
The Rays may not be loaded with household names but they do have talent.
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Trade deadline acquisition Tyler Glasnow will take the mound for the Rays on Saturday. He’s still building up his pitch count after serving as a reliever with the Pittsburgh Pirates so he hasn’t lasted more than five innings in any of his starts with the Rays. Despite the limited workload, Glasnow has been outstanding with his new team. The right-hander has only allowed one run in each of his three starts with the Rays. He has struck out a staggering 20 batters in only 12 innings while posting a sparkling 2.25 ERA.
Mallex Smith was a punchless fourth outfielder who hit a meager .172 in limited playing time against Red Sox pitching early this season. Now he’s leading off for the Rays and has been one of the league’s hottest bats, hitting .350 with a .998 OPS, 10 extra-base hits and 10 steals since the break.
Joey Wendle is hitting .293 with a .757 OPS this season while providing above-average defense at several positions. The rookie has seen some time in the outfield, third base, and shortstop but has primarily found a home at second base, where he’s played 79 games this year. His 2.4 WAR is sixth in the league among second basemen.
The Rays also stole Tommy Pham from St. Louis after the Cardinals gave up on him. He’s having a disappointing season but this is a guy who received some NL MVP votes last year.
Tampa Bay is hardly a juggernaut but they enter this series on a roll with several players who have been hot in the second half. Boston is the vastly superior team but they can’t afford to take the Rays for granted by looking ahead to Cleveland.
Alex Cora has preached a “one game at a time” mentality all season and that can’t change this weekend. If the Red Sox let their guard down, the Rays are poised to take advantage.