The Boston Red Sox were the winners of the always tough AL East, they had the most wins in the league with 97 and that means the road to Word Series goes through Fenway Park. The last team that Boston wanted to see in the ALDS was the Tampa Bay Rays, a team they faced 19 times this year. Boston won 12 of those games, but they also know that the Rays won’t be intimidated by the fans at Fenway Park.
The Rays enter Friday’s first game of the ALDS in Boston having won five elimination games. They ended the seasons of the Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and the Cleveland Indians. They have done it the way the Rays have been winning for years. Tampa Bay used outstanding defense, clutch pitching and timely hitting. They enter the ALDS winning 10 out of their last 12 games.
Boston knows that Rays Manager Joe Maddon and his team have seen every pitcher they will face in the ALDS. There is no fear factor, and for the Rays this is just another best of five series against Boston of the AL East.
Pitching will be Tampa Bay’s key weapon in taking out the Red Sox. The Rays not only have the reigning Cy Young Award winner David Price, but they have an All-Star in Matt Moore and their hottest pitcher in the underrated Alex Cobb. Tampa Bay’s starting pitchers own a 3.44 ERA in 19 games against Boston in 2013 and in 19 games, only twice did they allow more than three earned runs.
When it comes to the bullpen I will give Boston a slight edge at closer with the outstanding year that Koji Uehara is having. He has the edge over a still flame throwing Fernando Rodney, but the Rays have more viable late-inning options to get to Rodney than the Red Sox have in their pen.
The Rays’ Joel Peralta is essentially Tampa Bay’s version of Boston’s Junichi Tazawa — a fairly reliable set-up man occasionally prone to a letdown. The Rays’ Jake McGee is tough on lefties, and Alex Torres has been a game-changing longman all season. Then there is Jeremy Hellickson who can give the Rays as many quality innings as they need.
The Rays head to Boston confident that they can score runs in large part because they do have some pop in their bats with Desmond Jennings, Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, rookie of the year candidate Wil Myers and the resurgence of Delmon Young - the Rays own Mr. October with nine postseason home runs. Tampa Bay now has the kind offense it takes to win in the postseason.
These two teams have plenty of stars, but the Rays have momentum and pitching on their side. And in a short series that is the key to winning. The final factor in the Rays’ favor is that the pressure is on the Red Sox; they are the favorites to win.
Tampa Bay is a team on a mission. Clearly Boston is a very good ball club, but the hot Rays with their pitching depth should be able to silence the Red Sox bats and win this in five hard fought close games.