For two teams that know each other so well, are there any scouting secrets left to be unveiled as they meet in the Division Series? We think not. Boston won the season series, 12-7, but the Red Sox did it with three walkoff wins. They hit only .208 against the Rays with a .280 on-base percentage while the Rays hit just .232 against them.
The Red Sox managed just 208 total bases in 19 games, yet won 12 of them.
Obviously, the regular-season series wasn’t about offenses, though the Red Sox got big hits from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Daniel Nava, and Mike Carp to win games.
Evan Longoria is the player the Red Sox have to neutralize, and they did so this season more often than not. He hit .244 at Fenway with 2 homers, 3 RBIs, and a .694 OPS; overall, he hit .269 vs. Boston with 5 homers, 7 RBIs, and an .868 OPS .
While Longoria is the dangerous one, the Rays are all about platoons and players with multipositional talents. Ben Zobrist is the poster child for that. Manager Joe Maddon got a lot out of Red Sox castoff James Loney, who hit .299 with 13 homers and 75 RBIs and played a stellar first base. The Rays also got a boost from late-season acquisition David DeJesus, who saw time at all three outfield positions.
Desmond Jennings wasn’t quite a finished product in center, but he can create excitement with his speed. Jose Molina just keeps ticking behind the plate and does a great job with the staff; backup catcher Jose Lobaton has come a long way with the bat.
The Rays improved their offense in 2013, hitting .257 with 700 runs, but that can’t match Boston’s .277 and 853 runs.
As much as the Red Sox have to neutralize Longoria, the Rays must not let David Ortiz beat their pitching with one swing. That’s where those shifts come in handy. According to Bill James, the Red Sox prevented 15 runs from scoring with their shifts, while Tampa Bay led the league with 16 runs prevented by shifts.
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Clay Buchholz comes closest to David Price as a shutdown starter, and the strength of both teams lies in the rotations. That’s why Boston had such a poor batting average against Tampa Bay and vice versa.
Lefties Matt Moore and Price are expected to be the Games 1 and 2 starters, likely followed by righty Alex Cobb. Moore and Price had a couple of good games against Boston this season, but the Red Sox don’t seem to fear the Rays rotation.
Jeremy Hellickson would appear to be the fourth starter, with young Chris Archer (0-2, 5.91 ERA vs. Boston) likely the odd man out.
Price went 2-2 with a 2.48 ERA in five starts against Boston this season. Moore was 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA. Cobb went 0-1 with a 5.16 ERA in four starts, but that’s deceiving, as he pitched very well in three starts and had one meltdown game.
The Rays couldn’t touch Buchholz, who pitched 13 scoreless innings against them and allowed only a .122 average. Conversely, they batted around John Lackey (0-1 with an 8.10 ERA in two starts). Jon Lester and Jake Peavy were middle-of-the-road but with winning records and ERAs in the 4.00s.
Sox starters compiled a 2.93 ERA vs. Tampa Bay but a 1.269 WHIP, to Tampa’s 3.54 ERA and 1.095 WHIP
But one killer for the Red Sox: Their starters allowed 99 stolen bases, by far the most in baseball.
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The Rays have better overall numbers, with a 27-24 record, 3.59 ERA, and 1.21 WHIP out of the bullpen compared with Boston’s 30-23 record, 3.70 ERA, and 1.31 WHIP.
The question is, whom would you rather have close: Koji Uehara or Fernando Rodney?
Easy one. Uehara had 21 saves in 24 chances, with a minuscule ERA (1.09) and even smaller WHIP (0.565). Rodney blew eight saves (37 for 45) and could have blown a few more.
Tampa Bay’s strength is its setup men, including Jake McGee, Alex Torres, and Joel Peralta (who looks fatigued), and it has an edge there over Junichi Tazawa and Craig Breslow for the Sox.
Rays relievers are also vulnerable to stolen bases. They led the league with 50 allowed, to Boston’s 34. This could be a key late in games, when the winning run could get into scoring position at any moment, putting pressure on the reliever.
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The Rays have a deep bench full of experienced major league players who also fill roles. Jose Lobaton has provided offense and power as the backup to catcher Jose Molina. Sean Rodriguez is the Ben Zobrist off the bench, capable of playing multiple positions. Kelly Johnson can be used in the infield or outfield as a lefthanded hitter. Sam Fuld comes in for outfield defense and speed, and Luke Scott (lefthanded bat) and Delmon Young (righthanded) have filled situational roles.
Boston also has a very good bench led by Mike Carp, who has had big hits. David Ross provides a defensive alternative to Jarrod Saltalamacchia at catcher. If Daniel Nava starts, then Jonny Gomes comes off the bench as a power bat who has provided big hits as well.
The Sox will likely go with backup infielder Xander Bogaerts for his offense and John McDonald for his defense.
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Hard to pick who means more to his team. Joe Maddon is one of the best — if not the best — in baseball. John Farrell, after two tough seasons in Toronto, emerged as a very good manager, able to integrate seven major free agents onto a team that had been gutted. Farrell also turned around the fortunes of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, which was key to the season.
Maddon, with his low-key manner, did a great job bringing his team back from the brink of extinction a couple of times to reach this point. Maddon never showed signs of distress, and his team’s performance, when it counted most, reflected that.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.