The Rays tour of the Northeast continues Tuesday with a doubleheader in Boston against the AL East leading Red Sox. That is of course, weather permitting. After a washout in New York Sunday, the Rays may be dodging raindrops again on Tuesday. As always when these two teams square off, it looks like pitching will be the key. The Red Sox patience and propensity to score runs will test the Rays starters and their bullpen in particular, with the teams playing three games in two days.
I got together with BoSox Injection writer Derek Stykalo to help us prep for this exciting AL East matchup. We asked each other six questions and his answers to my questions about Boston can be found below. Check out my answers to his questions about the Rays at BoSox Injection
1. What is the feeling about the play of former Tampa Bay Ray Carl Crawford?
It’s been a mixed bag for Crawford this year. It started out with a lot of skepticism and wondering if perhaps the Red Sox way overpaid. Then Crawford started to get hot and Red Sox Nation started to see signs of the speedy outfielder that terrified the Red Sox for years when he was with Tampa Bay. Unfortunately Crawford then went on the DL for a good stretch of time and while it did allow for Josh Reddick to emerge as a new hero in Boston, it left many wondering if the Crawford era was a bust. Since his return, Carl has been streaky. He’ll go 4 for 4 in a game, followed up by a 3 for 4 performance to get his batting average above .250 for just the second time this year. But then there are times when the Red Sox have runners in scoring position and Crawford comes to the plate, only to hit a soft ground ball or weak pop up to the infield to end the inning. As we get into late August and with September looming, those plays are becoming crucial. It would’ve helped the Red Sox possibly win another game in the Seattle series this past weekend. Instead they’re now just a half game up on the Yankees. Crawford has certainly dug himself a hole with the fans in Boston and he’ll need to prove his worth in clutch situations over the next 6 weeks in order to try and win back some fans.
2. How confident are the Sox in their starting rotation? Especially if Clay Buchholz is unable to return?
It’s highly doubtful that Buchholz will return this year so for the most part, the Sox are preparing for the stretch run without him. Hence the acquisition of Erik Bedard at the deadline. Bedard has been good in his two starts with Boston and just his mere presence seems to have motivated the deflated John Lackey, who is starting to pitch a little bit better as of late. It’s a battle between those two for the number three spot and if Bedard can regain some of his old form, he’ll have the spot, should the Red Sox get into the postseason and the ALDS. The first two starters are a lock; Jon Lester and Josh Beckett have been great so far this year so there is no reason for concern there. It’s after that the confidence is still to be determined. As mentioned, if Bedard can prove he’s a legit number three guy then there shouldn’t be reason to panic. But heaven help us if John Lackey is our number three guy heading into late September.
3. The Rays aggressiveness on the base paths has been a key to their success against the Red Sox. How can the Red Sox slow them down and if they can’t is it really that important?
This series is huge for the Red Sox and containing the Rays on the base paths is a key to them winning. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been better as of late in throwing out base runners, despite a couple of throws ending up in center field. But the key to slowing down the Rays is in the pitchers. They will be aware of the base runners and holding them on first is pivotal. A quick throw to home will also be important so that Salty has a chance at the runner. Jason Varitek has also been more consistent in picking off base runners, but given how well Tampa Bay has ran against the Red Sox captain, again it falls back on the pitchers to keep the Rays close to first base. A pitch out or two will be important and you can bet that the Red Sox clubhouse will be studying video on how the Rays like to run. It’ll be interesting if Franklin Morales gets in the game for Boston. His lead leg and the way he moves to home plate has brought up a lot of discussion as many feel it is close to a balk. So far he’s been getting away with it, which could lead to a few pickoffs.
4. The Sox have pretty well owned the Yanks this season but have been unable to shake them in the division race. Is there any importance placed on winning the division vs. winning the wild card?
I’ve talked with a few people on this and some say no, as long as you get into the postseason it doesn’t matter how. I disagree. The Red Sox need to win the division for two reasons. The first, I feel they stack up better against whoever comes out of the AL Central (Cleveland or Detroit) rather than the Texas Rangers (who I feel will win the AL West). The second reason is to have home field advantage. Should the Red Sox and Yankees meet up in the ALCS I feel that having home field for four of the potential seven games is a huge benefit. This ballclub feeds off the Fenway faithful and knowing you have them waiting for you in any game seven is a real plus. The Yankees have hung around all year and are playing some great baseball. But I think that over the next six weeks, they’ll lose some key games and the Red Sox will win the division by 4 to 5 games. Sabathia has been too inconsistent, especially against Boston and something tells me he’s going to falter a bit down the stretch.
5. How impressive has Josh Reddick been and does that allow the Red Sox to be a little more cautious with JD Drew?
Josh Reddick is the new Chuck Norris of Boston. He can do no wrong in the fans eyes and has delivered numerous clutch hits to compliment his flashy leather in the field. It’s been remarkable to watch this kid develop right in front of us, all at the same time while filling a major gap in right field, that was created by JD Drew. Ask any Red Sox fan, they’ll tell you, Drew is finished in Boston. No need to be cautious with him, he can return to the club tomorrow; he just won’t have a starting spot. For the past three years he’s been too inconsistent, especially at the plate and his steady barrage of injuries leave the club more vulnerable and desperate to find the right replacement. He is overpaid and is a bust and thank goodness his contract is up after this year. Go ahead and retire JD, the Red Sox can use the $14 million they annually spend on you and re-sign David Ortiz or Jonathan Papelbon. Sorry about the rant, but JD Drew gets my blood boiling.
6. How do the Red Sox feel their bullpen stacks up right now?
They feel it is one of the best in the Majors right now and rightfully so. Theo Epstein realized the ‘pen was a huge mess this offseason so he did something about it. Now, Bobby Jenks is better left on the DL, but the other additions have proved to be a success. Starting with Franklin Morales, the lefty specialist, who recently has proved he can get the big outs to Alfredo Aceves who usually works the seventh inning, but has also done a great job of providing some long relief when needed. Both relievers have been great for Boston and have played a pivotal role in getting the ball to the closing combination of Bard and Papelbon. They are one of the best combinations in baseball to throw into the game in the 8th inning. The resurgence of Papelbon has been a pleasant surprise, although we shouldn’t be too surprised as it is his contract year. And being a client of Scott Boras, you know one team will overpay this winter for Papelbon’s services, and it could be Boston. He’s back to closing out games in dominating fashion since he regained his velocity on his fastball. His slider has also resurrected from pitch mortality and has been a reliable source when he needs a big out. It was a little scary coming out of Spring Training when both Bard and Papelbon got rocked; Papelbon more so to the tune of an ERA of 9.00. But both have settled in nicely and have given Francona a feeling of confidence that when the game is close, the bullpen will take care of it.