Red Sox-Rays series preview

June 10, 2013 - 12:20 pm

The Red Sox will spend a lot of time on the road in the coming weeks, kicking off a stretch of 11 of 14 games being played outside of Fenway Park. Their first stop will be in St. Petersburg, Fla., making their second visit to Tropicana Field to take on the Rays. For the most part, the Red Sox enjoyed their last visit to the Trop, taking two of three from Tampa Bay back in mid-May. So far this year, the Red Sox have enjoyed a lot of success against the Rays, owning a commanding 5-1 lead in the season series against their divisional rivals. The month of June has been kind to the Red Sox thus far; the Sox are 6-2 in their last eight games, coming off a 4-2 homestand in which they won series against the Angels and the Rangers. The Sox now sit alone at the top of the AL East, a game and a half ahead of the Yankees, and own the best record in the American League at 39-25. For the Red Sox, it seems like things are clicking on all cylinders. "This is a great clubhouse, a great group of guys. It starts with the top and works its way down,'' catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said after Boston'€™s 10-5 win over Los Angeles on Sunday. "Everybody knows their role and everybody knows what approach to take, which makes things easier. We've got a good group of veterans with a good group of young guys. It's a lot of fun, especially being in first place, but we know we have to focus on tomorrow.'' The Rays sit four games out of first place, occupying fourth place in the AL East standings at 34-28. After a loss to Baltimore on Sunday, the Rays slipped to .500 in the month of June with a 4-4 record after a six-game win streak to conclude May. The usually dominant Rays pitching staff has been somewhat of a disappointment so far this season, ranking in the bottom third of the majors when it comes to ERA and runs allowed. The loss of ace David Price hasn'€™t helped matters; the reigning AL Cy Young award winner has been sidelined since his last start against Boston, back on May 15. Matt Moore, who began the year with an 8-0 record, has gone from being a sure thing when on the mound to a big question mark after he was hit hard in his second outing in a row, losing his last two decisions. He gave up nine runs on 12 hits to the Orioles, and with the loss, the Rays dropped to fourth place while the Orioles moved into sole possession of third. "It seemed like when I was getting ahead, I just wasn't making a pitch,'€ Moore said. I would say that I feel like I got shelled to death more so than putting runners on when they didn't have to do much." The Rays will turn to their most consistent starter, Alex Cobb, in the first game of the series. Here are the rest of the pitching matchups for the three-game set: Monday: John Lackey (3-5, 2.79) vs. Alex Cobb (6-2, 2.39) Tuesday: Jon Lester (6-2, 3.60) vs. Roberto Hernandez (3-6, 5.03) Wednesday: TBD vs. Chris Archer (1-1, 4.91) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ With two home runs on Sunday, Saltalamacchia made people take notice of the hot streak he'€™s been on as of late. The catcher has put up a .273/.341/.515 line through 49 games on the season, belting eight home runs and 16 doubles. Through his last eight games, Saltalamacchia is hitting .367/.387/.833 with 10 RBIs and eight extra-base hits. Although Saltalamacchia'€™s high batting average on balls in play (.385) and increased strikeout rate (33.5 percent this year as compared to 31 percent in 2012 and a 29.8 percent career mark) suggest that he may not be able to sustain this type of production, he has been drawing more walks and getting on base more consistently than in years past. '€¢ Jose Iglesias is on some kind of tear right now. The shortstop/third baseman, who is working on adding second base to his resume, owns a 13-game hitting streak, good for the longest in the majors this season by a rookie, as well as the longest in the American League and second longest in the majors this season (the longest streak belongs to Miami's Marcell Ozuna, who hit in 16 straight games). He leads the majors with a .446 batting average in 50 or more plate appearances, and has gotten on base in 21 of his 22 games. These hits haven'€™t just been infield hits and bloop singles, either; Iglesias has eight extra-base hits, more than Shane Victorino and only one shy of Jonny Gomes'€™ total. '€¢ With injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury and Victorino, Mike Carp has been getting more playing time, and he has made the most of the additional at-bats. Carp is hitting .364 over his last 10 games, and knocked his sixth home run of the season on Sunday, his second round-tripper in as many games. Even though he went through a rough slump back in May, Carp still owns a .317/..366/.682 line through 85 at-bats. Carp'€™s performance gives the Red Sox a good problem to have; they now have five productive, healthy outfielders to work with, including Daniel Nava and Gomes. WHO'S HOT: RAYS '€¢ James Loney continues to be one of the Rays'€™ most potent offensive weapons, putting up a .325/.387/.507 line through 62 games. Loney has showcased some power as well, as the former Red Sox first baseman has belted seven home runs and 16 doubles. In his last 10 games, Loney is batting .306 with nine RBIs. '€¢ Though the Rays'€™ staff has been disappointing, one starter who has really stuck out is Cobb. The 25-year-old is 6-2 with a 2.39 ERA, and he has been enjoying a particularly good stretch of starts as of late. The righty has allowed only four earned runs over his past 28 2/3 innings, good for a 1.26 ERA in his last four outings. '€¢ Joel Peralta has been one the Rays'€™ only lights-out relievers, serving as the set-up man to closer Fernando Rodney. Peralta is second in the league with 32 appearances, compiling a 1.91 ERA and 1.024 WHIP in 28 1/3 innings pitched. WHO'S NOT: BOSTON '€¢ Mike Napoli was one of the few members of the Red Sox offense to have a subpar homestand, batting .143 over the six games at Fenway. Napoli had only three hits, all of which were singles, while striking out nine times. The first baseman did have six walks and two RBIs in the two series against the Rangers and Angels, his two former teams. '€¢ With the emergence of Iglesias, Pedro Ciriaco finds himself fighting for a job as the utility infielder once Will Middlebrooks returns, and lately, Ciriaco hasn'€™t done much to prove he'€™s a better choice than Iglesias. The 27-year-old has gone his last seven games without a hit (seven plate appearances) and is hitting .216 on the season. His defense, though better as of late, has been shaky all season, with seven errors committed in 28 games. WHO'S NOT: RAYS '€¢ It was improbable that Rodney would be able to sustain the kind of success he enjoyed in 2012, no matter how good he was in 2013. That'€™s turning out to be the case. Rodney has a 4.56 ERA through 27 games, blowing five saves in 19 opportunities. After giving up three runs on a hit and four walks to the Red Sox to give them a win and his third blown save of the season, Rodney went through an exceptionally rough patch in which he gave up runs in three of his next four starts, with his ERA rising above 6.00 at one point. The closer has regained form a bit in the past couple weeks, allowing only one hit and no runs over his last 6 1/3 innings pitched. '€¢ Kelly Johnson, who has had a solid season for the Rays, is struggling through a slump, going 2-for-30 in his last eight games. The second baseman has not had an extra base hit since May 28, and has only two RBIs in his last eight games. He is batting .260/.322/.481 on the year.