A breakdown of the Red Sox against the Rays:
Red Sox: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy.
Rays: David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, Chris Archer.
Edge: Rays. The Red Sox have experience, the Rays youth. Price had a 2.48 ERA in five starts against the Red Sox, better than Lester’s 4.32 in four starts against the Rays. That was skewed by one bad start, however. Moore had a shutout against the Sox on July 22. Lackey was better in the first half than the second but is strong at Fenway. Buchholz’s start in Game 3 could be the difference. If the teams split the first two games, the Sox will need Buchholz to pitch like the All-Star he was in April, May and June at Tropicana Field in Game 3. He has thrown 13 shutout innings against the Rays this season.
Red Sox: Koji Uehjara, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Ryan Dempster.
Rays: Fernando Rodney, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, James Wright.
Edge: Red Sox by a lot. Joe Maddon doesn’t trust his bullpen, he showed that in the tiebreaker game against Texas when he let Price go to the distance. In Uehara and Tazawa, the Red Sox have two pitchers who did some of their best work this season against the Rays. This is a decided edge for the Red Sox based on the closers.
Red Sox: Mike Napoli, Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew, Will Middlebrooks
Rays: Jame Loney, Ben Zobrist, Yunel Escobar, Evan Longoria.
Edge: Red Sox by a little: This is not as much of an edge as you might think. Loney has had a strong season (OPS+ of 118) and Zobrist is one of the game’s most underrated players. Drew and Escobar are pretty comparable with Escobar a touch better defensively and Drew with a stronger bat, but Longoria is significantly better than Middlebrooks.
Red Sox: Daniel Nava/Jonny Gomes, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino.
Rays: David DeJesus/Sean Rodriguez Desmond Jennings, Wil Myers.
Edge: Red Sox by a lot. The Red Sox have more power, more speed, more experience and better defense. DeJesus was an upgrade on Kelly Johnson but not enough to offset a decided edge for the Red Sox.
Red Sox: Jarrod Saltalamacchia (with David Ross)
Rays: Jose Molina (with Jose Lobaton).
Edge: Red Sox. Salty has the better bat and has improved defensively. But watch Molina catch. His ability to pull a pitch into the strike zone and fool the umpire is amazing. He can steal outs for his team. Ross will start one of the first two games.
Red Sox: David Ortiz.
Rays: Delmon Young.
Edge: Red Sox, but not by as much as you think. Big Papi is having one of the better seasons of his career and Young was released by the Phillies in August. But Young is hitting .326/.367/.565 in his last 12 postseason games with three homers and nine RBIs. He homered on Wednesday. Ortiz has hit .164/.281/.291 in 14 postseason games since 2008. You have to think the Red Sox scouts have gone to school on Young and can expose him, though.
Red Sox: John Farrell.
Rays: Joe Maddon.
Edge: Rays. Farrell will manage his first playoff game on Monday. Maddon has managed 26 of them and led a team to the World Series. You will see a lot of defensive shifting in this series and probably more small ball than you would expect from two American League teams. The Red Sox occasionally get happy feet in the bases and running into outs could cost them. Farrell has been waiting for this chance. He and Maddon are different personalities but both use data very efficiently.
Red Sox in four games. The Rays have to be beat up from their schedule and the Red Sox have been able to dial in on Tampa Bay from a scouting standpoint for a few days now. That’s an edge. Home field is a big edge, too. It’ll be harder for the Rays to play at Fenway Park then for the Red Sox to play at Tropicana Field.
The teams split the first two games, Buchholz throws a gem in Game 3 and Jake Peavy goes a strong seven innings in Game 4. Big series for Mike Napoli.