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The Rays have lost eight games in a row, essentially eliminating them from playoff contention and leaving the Red Sox and Rangers dueling for the Wild Card.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox righted the ship against the Orioles, sweeping the two-game set to open the homestand. The Red Sox are 6-8 against the Rays, but an even 3-3 at home and have a chance to take the season series if they can pull off the sweep.
Jon Lester’s (1-1, 21.1 IP, 16 ER, 24 H, 30 K, 7 BB vs TAM) numbers against the Rays are not great, but the damage was all done in the early season. He has allowed only three runs and struck out 19 in 12 innings in his most recent two starts over the past month against them. James Shields (1-2, 18.2 IP, 12 ER, 25 H, 15 K, 6 BB vs BOS) has not faced the Sox since May and, given his performance against them this season, is probably thankful.
Josh Beckett (2 GS, 12.0 IP, 7 ER, 13 H, 14 K, 3 BB vs TAM) has been anything but sharp lately, save his last start, so this may tell the team and fans whether he is getting back on track or not. He opposes Wade Davis (0-0, 1.29 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 11.57 K/9), who is making just his second major league start.
Clay Buchholz (5-3, 3.92 ERA, 1.40 WHIP in 2009) has won three consecutive starts and four decisions in a row, including a win over the Rays in the last series. Matt Garza (3 GS, 20.2 IP, 9 ER, 16 H, 15 K, 7 BB) will oppose Buchholz and has not been able to beat the Red Sox yet this season.
The Red Sox and Rays are very familar to each other and know each other’s gameplan. The Rays love to flex their speed by taking the extra base and stealing bases. Outside at Fenway mitigates this effect slightly for the Red Sox as it is slower than the artificial field in Tampa Bay. The biggest change on this front for this series is Carlos Pena’s trip to the disabled list. Their biggest power threat (team-high 39 HR) and major run producer (100 RBI are second on the team) broke two fingers and is out for the season.
The Rays have had the Red Sox number since last season, but they have really fallen apart recently. The Red Sox have to take advantage of this and win this series. The Rangers are right there and ready to pounce on any Sox mistake. If Beckett is indeed on track, the Red Sox seem a very safe bet for two of three, with a sweep a possibility.