Boston Red Sox hammered by puzzling all-lefty Rays lineup

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 10: Austin Meadows #17 of the Tampa Bay Rays at Globe Life Park in Arlington on September 10, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 10: Austin Meadows #17 of the Tampa Bay Rays at Globe Life Park in Arlington on September 10, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Rays used an all-lefty lineup against the Red Sox.

Boston Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the lineup card that the Tampa Bay Rays submitted for Friday night’s game. Every hitter in the lineup was left-handed.

According to MassLive, the manager was astonished to see this unique lineup being used against him. It’s one thing to stack your lineup against a certain type of pitcher but this took it to the extreme.

"“When (bench coach) Jerry Narron gave me the lineup, I looked at it and it looked wrong to me,” Roenicke said. “So everything was in red. So I don’t even know how often that thing has happened. I don’t know really the history of that or when’s the last time that’s happened. Pretty interesting though.”"

Never. That’s how often it had happened prior to last night. The Rays are the first major league team in the modern era (since at least 1901) to start a lineup featuring all lefties. Even their starting pitcher, former Cy Young award winner Blake Snell, is a southpaw.

The lineup was as historic as it was puzzling. Stacking the lineup with lefties against a right-handed pitcher can be a wise strategy but you have to wonder if the Rays did their homework on Andrew Triggs. If they had, they might have realized the Red Sox starter has reverse splits.

For his career, Triggs has held left-handed hitters to a .234/.310/.378 slash line while right-handers have found more success at a .269/.325/.440 clip. The splits have been far wider in this year’s limited sample, with lefties hitting .111/.273/.384 and right-handers batting a scorching .455/.538/1.273.

Not only should the reverse splits have dissuaded the Rays from going so lefty-heavy but how long were they expecting Triggs to last? He pitched only three innings in each of his first two outings since joining the Red Sox, one of which came in relief. The Rays set up their lineup for a pitcher they might not see more than once through the order.

As it turned out, Triggs lasted only one inning. He allowed a hit and  a walk but kept the Rays off the scoreboard before departing with a pinched nerve in his neck.

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The pitching change didn’t sway Rays manager Kevin Cash. Boston brought in lefty Matt Hall but the Rays stuck with their all-lefty lineup. In fairness, Hall also has reverse splits, although he’s been pretty awful against hitters from both sides of the plate.  Hall took the loss after getting knocked around for four runs in 2 1/3 innings.

Boston’s bullpen is thin on left-handed options who could make the Rays pay for their lineup choices. Martin Perez has become the ace-by-default for the rotation and Mike Kickham started the previous night’s game. The only other lefty on the roster is Jeffrey Springs who owns a 7.04 ERA this season.

Using all lefties was a questionable decision considering the pitcher the Red Sox were starting but Cash’s plan clearly worked out. The Rays battered the Red Sox for 11 runs in a decisive victory. Boston doesn’t have the left-handed arms in their bullpen to shake the Rays from their game plan. Cash didn’t make a single substitution with his offense, keeping the all-lefty lineup together for the entire game.

It might be more accurate to say that Boston’s bullpen doesn’t have the arms to stop the Rays lineup – period. Phillips Valdez has been a revelation despite a couple of hiccups earlier this month. He held the Rays scoreless while recording five outs. Every other Red Sox reliever used last night coughed up at least one run.

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The Rays probably won’t make a habit of this all-lefty lineup but when they are facing a pitching staff as woeful as Boston’s, it provides an opportune time to experiment.