Red Sox-Rays series preview

July 22, 2013 - 7:14 am

It'€™ll be a showdown between the AL East'€™s top two teams when the Rays head to Fenway Park for a four-game set starting Monday. It was a long one on Sunday night, with a four-hour, 45-minute battle ending with the Red Sox topping the Yankees in 11 innings, thanks to a Mike Napoli walk-off home run. With the dramatic victory, the Sox took two of three from the Yankees and maintained their 1½-game lead over the Rays in the division. It was the ninth time this season the Red Sox won on a walk-off hit. "It was a good win," starter Ryan Dempster said. "Just keep playing good baseball. We're trying to win a series any time we can, and we won another series today." There'€™s obviously no doubt that the 2013 Red Sox are enjoying far more success than the 2012 squad, but it'€™s interesting to look at just how different the two seasons are. For example, the Red Sox became the first club to reach 60 wins this season, only 100 games in. That'€™s nine less wins than the Red Sox had in all of 2012. Sunday'€™s victory also clinched the team'€™s 20th series victory, equaling last year'€™s total. The Red Sox may own one of the best records, but there'€™s no team in baseball hotter than the Rays right now. Tampa Bay has won 13 of its last 14 games and and is rapidly closing the gap between first and second place in the division. The month of July has been very kind to the Rays, who have lost only two of their 17 games this month and lead the American League in batting average (.283) while the pitching staff has the lowest ERA (2.16) and the lowest WHIP (0.96). The Rays pitching staff has allowed only 40 runs this month. Undoubtedly, the Rays have gotten a boost from the return of reigning Cy Young winner David Price, who spent over a month on the disabled list with a strained left triceps. Price wasn'€™t pitching like the team's ace in the first part of the season, but he has compiled a 1.97 ERA in four starts since returning to the rotation July 2. "That injury was kind of a blessing in disguise," Price said. "Just letting me kind of regroup, hit the reset button, mindset, everything. I'm right where I need to be right now, and there's still a lot of baseball left." There'€™s no doubt that the run the Rays have been on is impressive. But the success has to be taken with a grain of salt. The Red Sox will be the first team with a winning record the Rays have faced since the end of June, with Tampa Bay having played the White Sox, Twins, Blue Jays and Astros (twice) in their last five series. The three-game set serves as a challenge for both clubs. '€œBig series, two very good teams, an AL East battle,'€ Rays designated hitter Luke Scott said. '€œIt'€™s going to be some good games, a lot on the line.'€ Here are the pitching matchups for the four-game set. Monday: Brandon Workman (0-0, 5.40) vs. Matt Moore (13-3, 3.44) Tuesday: Jon Lester (8-6, 4.58) vs. Roberto Hernandez (5-10, 4.90) Wednesday: Felix Doubront (7-3, 3.76) vs. David Price (4-5, 4.03) Thursday: John Lackey (7-7, 2.95) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (9-3, 4.62) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX '€¢ Drake Britton made his major league debut in a big spot on Saturday, coming in with two on, one out, and Ichiro Suzuki at the plate. Britton closed out the inning and stranded the runners. His second appearance arguably came in an even bigger spot, when he worked the 10th inning of a game knotted at 7. The lefty, who has been a starter for his entire minor league career and had never worked back-to-back games before, got into trouble after giving up a hit and a walk, but worked his way out of a jam thanks to an inning-ending double-play ball. Though it'€™s an extremely small sample size, Britton has looked impressive in his brief time in the Red Sox bullpen and has proved that the Red Sox can rely on him in high-leverage situations. '€¢ Mike Carp may not get a ton of playing time, but he'€™s still showing that when he does, he makes the most of it. Carp played in only one game against the Yankees and went 3-for-4 with a double. Over his last seven appearances, Carp is batting .348/.407/.478 with three doubles, while his line on the season stands at .316/.379/.618 through 53 games. Carp has 23 extra-base hits in 136 at-bats, including eight home runs. '€¢ David Ortiz has shown no signs of slowing down, hitting .378/.455/.676 with five doubles and two home runs in his last 10 games. The designated hitter finished the Yankees series going 5-for-12 with two extra-base hits. Despite the hot streak, Ortiz has not driven in a run in seven games. Ortiz is batting .321/.406/.605 through 299 at-bats this year, drawing 44 walks (14 intentional) while striking out the same amount of times. WHO'S HOT: RAYS '€¢ Since being recalled from Triple-A Durham and making his first start on June 1, Chris Archer has been dominant for the Rays. The 24-year-old has allowed only one earned run in his last three starts (22 innings), pitching a complete-game shutout in his second-to-last start (the first complete game shutout of his career) against the Astros. Archer has not lost a game since June 18 against the Red Sox, a game in which he allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits in 4 2/3 innings. Since that start, the right-hander has posted a 1.62 ERA in 39 innings in six outings. On the season, Archer owns a 2.76 ERA, good for the lowest of any starter in the Rays rotation, and a 5-3 record in 10 starts. He'€™s walked 25 while striking out 40 in 58 2/3 innings, while opposing hitters are batting .211 against him. '€¢ Scott is riding a 13-game hit streak and is batting .383/.482/.766 with four home runs, four doubles and a triple over the life of the streak, drawing seven walks while striking out nine times and driving in 10 runs. Through his first 46 games, Scott was batting only .236/.325/.386 with four home runs. He has raised his average to .274 with a .361 OBP in 63 games. '€¢ Kelly Johnson is coming off a big day on Sunday in which he hit his 15th home run of the season as well as a double in a 3-for-4 showing against the Blue Jays. Johnson has been on fire recently, going 8-for-12 in his last three games and batting .385/.429/.641 with four home runs over his last 11 games. Johnson'€™s average dipped as low as .233 in the beginning of the month, but the good stretch has bumped his line up to .256/.328/.474 in 79 games. WHO'S NOT: RED SOX '€¢ It was a quiet series for Dustin Pedroia, who had only two hits in 14 at-bats in the series with the Yankees. The second baseman did not draw a walk in the series either, though he struck out only once. Pedroia'€™s bat has cooled down considerably as of late. He'€™s batting .208/.255/.292 with a double and a home run in his last 11 games. '€¢ It may take Stephen Drew a little more time to get in the swing of things since coming off the DL on Saturday. The shortstop went 0-for-5 in the last two games of the series with the Yankees, striking out four times. Drew did draw a walk in each game, however, scoring a run in Sunday night'€™s contest. In 68 games with the Red Sox, Drew is hitting .228/.315/.401 with five home runs, six triples and 14 doubles, drawing 30 walks and fanning 71 times. '€¢ Jarrod Saltalamacchia had one hit in Sunday'€™s 11-inning affair, his first hit in five games. The catcher, who has been behind the plate for just about every game as of late, has hit .233 over his last 13 games, though he does own a .346 OBP in that span thanks to eight walks. Saltalamacchia, who belted 25 home runs last season, is experiencing a bit of a power outage recently, as he hasn'€™t hit one out in his last 28 games. He has eight home runs on the year in addition to his 24 doubles. Saltalamacchia is still enjoying a very solid season at the plate, however, batting .257/.331/.437 through 77 games. WHO'S NOT: RAYS '€¢ Third baseman Evan Longoria has been mired in a slump that has lasted nearly a month, batting .157/.330/.300 in his last 21 games dating back to June 23. In that span, he owns the third-lowest batting average among qualifiers. Longoria, who leads the Rays with 20 home runs, added one to his total on Sunday with a solo shot, his third home run and eighth RBI in his last 21 games. Before the slump, Longoria was batting .307/.366/.569, but his line has slipped to .278/.358/.517 through 96 games on the season. '€¢ Things have been going a lot more smoothly for Fernando Rodney since the last time the Red Sox saw the Rays closer. Rodney had put together a 12-inning scoreless streak, walking only two batters while striking out 20 in that span. But the last couple of games have been rocky for Rodney, who gave up one run on Saturday (albeit an unearned run) on one hit, and allowed two runs on two hits and two walks in Sunday'€™s contest. Rodney recorded the save on both occasions, but had to throw a total of 56 pitches over the two appearances. One would assume he'€™d be out of commission for Monday'€™s game. '€¢ Matt Joyce'€™s bat has been quiet recently, with the outfielder batting .233/.303/.267 with only one extra-base hit in his last 11 games. Joyce has 14 home runs to his credit this season, but he has gone 27 games and 87 plate appearances without a long ball and is hitting only .175/.241/.213 since his last round-tripper. The slump has caused Joyce'€™s line to fall to .243/.323/.443 through 87 games, while he has 14 doubles in addition to his 14 home runs and has driven in 33.