The Rays have been good at finding value recently. They turned James Loney into an All-Star in 2013, and made David Dejesus an impact asset down the stretch. And I’m sure Delmon Young, a guy the lackluster Phillies didn’t even want in their lineup, wasn’t expected to hit home runs off 100 mph fastballs in October.
It’s easy to look at this lineup as an island of misfit toys, but their situational and clutch hitting is a major strength in the postseason.
On the other hand, the Red Sox boast one of the best, if not the best lineups in baseball. This lineup has postseason experience, from David Ortiz to Shane Victorino, as well as clutch bats off the bench in the form of Jonny Gomes. Keeping this team off the basepaths is no easy task with the way they work counts, and with most of the lineup able to hit the ball out of the ballpark, they’re a pitcher’s worst nightmare.
Advantage: Red Sox
Jon Lester and John Lackey are enjoying bounce-back seasons (thanks John Farrell), and more importantly, have combined for over 400 innings in 2013. Clay Buchholz has also looked good after returning from the DL, and could provide a huge boost this postseason if his fastball velocity has completely returned. Jake Peavy has been a great addition as well, going 4-1 in his 10 starts in Boston.
However, the Rays have starting pitching to spare. Matt Moore is hit-or-miss at this point in his career, but there is no denying he has the stuff to baffle any lineup. David Price is as good as it gets and the Red Sox current roster as a whole has hit only .215 off the southpaw in his career. He’ll be tough in game 2.
Alex Cobb is a fiery competitor, and the guy can just plain pitch. He doesn’t need his best stuff to give the Rays a chance. You’d also be hard-pressed to find a fourth starter better than Chris Archer and his 95 mph fastball. Simply put, this rotation has it all: depth, talent, and an overwhelming desire to win. If the Rays do take the series, this will be a huge reason why.
Both these teams can “pick it” per se , but the Rays boast a superior defensive SS in Yunel Escobar, a superior catcher in Jose Molina and a superior defensive first baseman in Loney.
The Rays have a stacked bullpen, from left-handed fireballer Jake McGee to arrow-shooting closer Fernando Rodney. Joel Peralta is vastly underrated as a setup man as well — there’s a reason he led MLB in appearances (80) after all, and his change-up makes him a weapon.
For whatever reason, however, the Red Sox have been able to get to the Rays’ bullpen this year. Rodney has a 6.75 ERA and Peralta has a 4.84 against Boston in 2013, and with the emergence of Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa in the Red Sox bullpen, this one is likely to be a toss-up.
After spending most of the last decade going station to station and banking on the three-run home run, the Red Sox had a historic season on the basepaths, swiping 123 bags and only being caught an unheard-of 19 times in 2013, an 87 percent success rate.
The Rays, however, struggled in that area, with only 73 steals and a 66 percent success rate. Don’t get me wrong, both these teams will take the extra base when it’s there, but the days of the Rays stealing 12 bags a series against the Red Sox are over.
Advantage: Red Sox
John Farrell has done an excellent job this season, starting anew with a 69-win team ruined by Bobby Valentine and turning them into an AL East juggernaut. His contributions will most likely win him manager of the year.
However, there’s something about Joe Maddon. From the way he gets contributions from the Delmon Youngs and the James Loneys of the world to the way he loosens up the clubhouse by randomly bringing in giant pythons for his players to play with, the players genuinely like and respect him, and it shows on the field.