The Red Sox and Rays began their American League Division Series Friday afternoon at Fenway Park. The rivalry is steeped in bad blood, but looking at this series, there are new, specific matchups and storylines to consider. We run down the biggest ones in the slides ahead.
John Farrell (left) has restored order to a Red Sox team that was in disarray and missed the playoffs under Bobby Valentine last season. Farrell’s stoicism stands in stark contrast to the philosopher in the other dugout. Rays manager Joe Maddon brings performers and wild animals into the clubhouse before games, posts inspirational quotes on Twitter, and speaks his mind. He’s known as one of the most innovative managers in the game.
Rays ace David Price was much better than his record this season, posting a league-best 5.59 strikeout-to-walk ratio and also leading the league with four complete games. Jon Lester bounced back in a big way in 2013, posting a 15-8 record in 33 starts. Lester will start Game 1 for the Red Sox, while Price goes in Game 2 for the Rays after pitching in the wild-card tie-breaker vs. Texas earlier this week. Since the All-Star break, Lester is 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA.
The Red Sox ran away with the AL East, compiling a 97-65 record that was the best in the American League. The Rays were second at 92-71. Boston had the chance to rest for the second half of last week and set its rotation. The Rays are coming off emotional wins over Texas and Cleveland just to get the right to play in this series.
The Red Sox play at historic Fenway Park. While Rays DH Luke Scott has a noted hatred of the park, calling it a “dump’’ last year, it’s generally acknowledged that Fenway is a great place to play. In contrast to the history and passion of Boston, the Rays play to a nearly empty, entirely soulless Tropicana Field. Eric Wilbur breaks down the difference between the fan bases Thursday.
Each team has its share of showmanship. Red Sox closer Koji Uehara is known for his enthusiastic high-fives. Rays closer Fernando Rodney likes to point and strut on the mound when wrapping up a save. The Sox have a thing with beards.
David Ortiz (left) continues to defy the odds, putting up big numbers season after season despite getting to an age where sluggers typically slow down. Ortiz mashed 30 home runs and 103 RBIs this season, anchoring the middle of what was supposed to be a weaker lineup. Third baseman Evan Longoria is the clear stud in Tampa Bay’s lineup. He hit 32 home runs and drove in 88 runs this season in a substantially weaker lineup.
After Lester and Price at the top, each team has depth in the rotation. The Sox will run out John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy, while the Rays will counter with Matt Moore in Game 1 and Alex Cobb in Game 3. Their Game 4 starter has not yet been announced, but standout rookie Chris Archer figures to get serious consideration.
Speaking of rookies, Tampa Bay’s Wil Myers burst onto the scene after being called up from Triple A. Myers has been hitting second and is a key part of the lineup. On the other side, the Sox counter with a highly-touted prospect of their own in Xander Bogaerts, who just turned 21. Bogaerts is on the playoff roster but might not be ready for a prime-time role. He played very little in September, and the Sox could be easing him in slowly. If Boston has an injury, however, he will be thrust into a key role.
Koji Uehara (right) has come on this year and been one of the best closers in baseball despite being the team’s third or fourth option to start the season. Getting to him will be the issue for the Sox, with Junichi Tazawa (center) being one of the keys. Fernando Rodney had 37 saves for the Rays, who ranked 18th in bullpen ERA at 3.59. Boston was 21st at 3.70.
This isn’t something you can really quantify, but both teams have players with extensive playoff experience. The Rays won the AL East in 2010 and made the playoffs as a wild card in 2011 and this season. They made it to the World Series in 2008 by defeating the Red Sox. The Sox last won it all in 2007, and Dustin Pedroia (pictured), David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Jon Lester were a part of those teams. The Sox missed the playoffs the last three seasons.
There’s some bad blood between these squads. The most recent incident occurred in June when Red Sox starter John Lackey plunked Tampa’s Matt Joyce with a pitch. Benches emptied, and after the game the Rays had some harsh words for Lackey. Rays manager Joe Maddon said Lackey’s actions were “really inappropriate’’ and called him a “bad teammate.’’ Rays infielder Sean Rodriguez said, “I played with (Lackey), I thought he was more of a man. But maybe he’s changed, I don’t know.’’
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