Tonight begins the second Tampa Bay Rays-Boston Red Sox series of the year as the Rays hope to rebound from their rough stretch in recent weeks. Last time around, the Rays won 2 out of 3 games in the series by winning both games of a day-night double-header. There was also some controversy, as the Red Sox elected to makeup a rainout with the doubleheader despite the Rays objections. The clubs will hope to avoid some controversy and the Rays are hoping to ride momentum from Thursday’s walk-off win into this important series. To get some perspective on Boston, I talked with Conor Duffy of Bosox Injection about a few of the key storylines surrounding the Red Sox as they travel to Tropicana Field.
Robbie Knopf: Are you excited that Stephen Drew is back? How surprised are you that the situation took this long to resolve?
Conor Duffy: Ultimately, I’m not too surprised that the Drew situation took so long for the Red Sox to resolve. The 2014 season was looking like a post-World Series “bridge year,” if you can call it that, and the team was looking to give guys like Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks regular playing time. That train of thought makes sense even though it did not work out as well as one would hope. Now that Middlebrooks is on the DL, and potentially for a while, it makes sense to sign Drew as a short-term improvement. He will serve his purpose in that role and his presence will make the team better both offensively and defensively, but I don’t love the move from a long-term perspective as the move potentially displaces Middlebrooks for the rest of the year and does not give him a chance to rebound from his rough start.
RK: What do you make of Clay Buchholz‘s struggles? Did you think that he would emerge as an ace this year after pitching so well when he was healthy last year?
CD: Seven years into his career, it’s still unclear just who Clay Buchholz is. Because of his issues with both injuries and inconsistency throughout his career, I can’t say I was overly optimistic about him developing into an ace at this stage of his career. Still, I certainly didn’t expect the magnitude of his struggles thus far and hopefully he can turn his season around in the coming weeks and months.
RK: As expected, the Red Sox have a higher slugging percentage than the Rays this year, but their .379 mark is just 12th in the AL. What has happened to the Red Sox’ power?
CD: Everything went right for the Red Sox in 2013, including unsustainable performances from unlikely sources. An extreme regression in that one area is what has really cost the Red Sox early this season. They are still getting good power production from guys like David Ortiz (.534 slugging percentage) and Mike Napoli (.427 slugging percentage), but players that provided solid power production in 2013 like Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, and even Dustin Pedroia have dropped off significantly in the power department. Also, the Red Sox lost players like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and (until the recent signing) Stephen Drew that provided at least some power. Even considering all that, however, the lack of power in the Red Sox’ lineup has been shocking and should gravitate at least a bit towards the mean as the season progresses.
RK: Jon Lester looked good last year and has been easily the Red Sox’ best starter to begin 2014. Are you worried that the Red Sox have not yet extended him?
CD: The Jon Lester extension case is an unusual one for the Red Sox. Last offseason, after Lester made comments indicating that he would take a major hometown discount to remain with the Red Sox, it appeared that the two parties would agree on an extension before the start of the season. However, since the Red Sox lowballed Lester with a 4 year/$70MM contract offer, the two sides have since ceased negotiations due to the start of the season. Lester has stated that he will not negotiate in the middle of the season, so I suppose we’ll just have to wait until the offseason begins. I am still confident that the two sides will work an agreement out, but it is a bit concerning that Lester is still set to hit the open market come November.
RK: With the Rays and Red Sox struggling and the division leaders only 3 games over .500 right now, how many wins do you think it will take to emerge victorious in the AL East?
CD: I am confident that, to some degree, the Rays and Red Sox will improve over the course of the year and I would be surprised if both teams did not surpass the .500 mark. At the same time, it would not surprise me too much to see none of the Yankees, Orioles, or Blue Jays fall below .500 over the course of the season. It’s possible that every team in the AL East will surpass the .500 mark, and if that is the case, then no teams will dominate each other and wind up with truly excellent records. I would not be terribly surprised if the division winner only finishes the season with slightly over 90 wins.
Thanks to Conor for taking time to answer these questions. I also talked to Conor about the Rays earlier, which you can check out here. Game one of the series starts tonight at 7:10, let’s see if the Rays can string together some wins against the important divisional opponent.