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The Red Sox continue their tour of the American League East with a brief stop in Tampa Bay to face the Rays for a pair of games. The Red Sox have climed back to within a half game of the Yankees and the Rays, quiet at the deadline, are still hanging around in the race as well. Tampa has the edge 5-4 over the Sox this season, including taking two of three in the previous series at the Trop.
The first game features Jon Lester (0-2, 9.1 IP, 13 ER, 18 H, 11 K, 3 BB in two starts vs TAM this season), who has been awful against the Rays this year against Red Sox killer Matt Garza (3 GS, 2-0, 21.2 IP, 4 ER, 12 H, 21 K, 6 BB vs. the Sox).
Brad Penny (1-1, 12.1 IP, 6 ER, 14 H, 10 K, 4 BB vs. TB) faces David Price (4-4, 5.10 ERA, 1.63 WHIP in 2009), the pitcher who finished the Red Sox off in last season’s ALCS, but who has been disappointing this year, in the second game. The pitching really matches up well as Boston is the third best staff in the AL and Tampa Bay is the No. 6 staff.
The Red Sox and Rays also have the first and second rated bullpens. Troy Percival predictably broke down, leaving the closing duties primarily on J.P. Howell who has 11 saves in 16 chances, but who has very good ratios: 1.95 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 10.84 K/9. Facing the Sox this season, he has allowed two runs in two innings with a hold.
The Red Sox and Rays’ offenses are also near mirror images of each other in nearly every major statistical category. Jason Bartlett, acquired with Garza, is the Rays leading hitter at .337 with 20 steals in 23 chances. He also has eight home runs and five triples to go with his 53 runs and 47 driven in. Carl Crawford is filling up the stat sheet as well with a .317 average, 49 steals in 55 attempts, 17 doubles, six triples, and 11 home runs, 70 runs, and 50 RBI. Carlos Pena leads the teams in round trippers with 26, but is hitting only .214. Evan Longoria his dipped a bit from his Rookie of the Year season, but still has 21 home runs and sports a .273 BA with 78 batted in and 58 runs. B. J. Upton is having an off year with the .244 average, but has 33 steals in 43 tries.
This is a tough series to call, but I feel a split is in order. If Lester can figure out the Rays and the Red Sox can hit Garza, maybe they can steal the opener. Expect the Rays to run on the Red Sox any chance they get as they have the second best success rate and the Red Sox have the worst rate for throwing out runners. The Red Sox have allowed 103 steals, seven more than anyone else, and have caught only 18, one more than the fewest.