Red Sox-Rays series preview

July 25, 2014 - 8:54 am

What a difference three days can make. The Red Sox went into their four-game series in Toronto rolling. They had won six of their last seven games and had fans once again dreaming of a playoff push following a sweep of the Royals. The streak reached its peak Monday with a 14-1 rout of their American League East rivals, and it was all downhill from there. The Sox lost the final three games of the series, capped off by an 8-0 loss Thursday afternoon in which they were no-hit through six innings. The losses put the Red Sox all alone in the AL East cellar at 47-55, 9 1/2 games behind the first-place Orioles and two games back of the fourth-place Rays, who the Sox play in a three-game series at Tropicana Field this weekend. It may have had an even bigger impact of the Red Sox' approach to the July 31 trade deadline.

"I'€™m sure it'€™s going to have an impact on the type of trades that we make," manager John Farrell said after Thursday's game. "I will say this: I think there will be moves that will go on regardless of our record over the next seven days. All that will play out in due time."

The Rays, on the other hand, come into the series playing their best baseball of the season. Tampa Bay has won seven straight games and 16 of its last 20, sneaking its way back into the playoff hunt. The Rays are 7 1/2 games back in the division and just 4 1/2 out of the wild card despite a middling 49-53 record.

Evan Longoria continues to be the leader of the Rays' historically below-average lineup over the last half-decade. The third baseman leads the team in home runs (12), RBIs (50) and runs scored (54).

The pitching staff continues to be led by David Price, who has been at the center of trade talks this season. The rotation will also get a boost from Jeremy Hellickson, who will be called back up from the minor leagues to start for the Rays on Sunday, according to Hellickson has missed most of the season after getting elbow surgery in the winter. His only start for Tampa Bay this season came on July 8.

The Sox-Rays rivalry has been especially heated this season thanks to a pair of benches-clearing incidents and countless ejections. This weekend's meeting may be tamed, however, with David Ortiz likely to miss some, if not all, of this series after suffering back spasms in Thursday's game.

Here are the probable pitching matchups for the three-game series.

Friday: Jon Lester (10-7, 2.50 ERA) vs. David Price (10-7, 3.06 ERA) Saturday: John Lackey (11-6, 3.66 ERA) vs. Chris Archer (6-5, 3.31 ERA) Sunday: Jake Peavy (1-9, 4.72 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (0-0, 2.08 ERA)


-- Whether contract talks are ongoing or not, Jon Lester continues to prove to the Red Sox he deserves to be paid like an ace. The lefty has shut out opponents in three of his last four starts, including a four-hitter over eight innings last Sunday against the Royals, and has allowed two runs or fewer in his last seven outings, all of which have been Red Sox wins.

-- Mike Napoli was riding a seven-game hitting streak before going 0-for-3 Thursday in Toronto, putting him at the team's batting average lead at .276 for the season. Napoli is 9 for his last 23 with nine hits, five runs scored and a pair of home runs. He had three straight multi-hit games from June 18-21.

-- Shane Victorino has made a major impact at the plate since returning from a long injury rehab process last Saturday. Victorino has had a hit in every game since his return, hitting .421 with eight hits and three runs over five games.


-- Price's days with the Rays may be numbered, but he's certainly made these last few starts count. The lefty has gone at least eight innings in seven of his last eight starts and hasn't allowed an earned run in three of his last four. Price hasn't allowed a run in his last 16 innings, surrendering just one walk to 14 strikeouts.

-- James Loney has swung a hot bat since returning from the All-Star break. The first baseman is hitting .450 with nine hits and three RBIs in his last 20 at-bats. Loney leads the team in batting average at .284.


-- Dustin Pedroia finally snapped a four-game hitless streak with a single Wednesday, but he was not in the lineup for the series finale against the Blue jays. After seemingly finding his stroke in early July, the second baseman is hitting .083/.154/.083 in the six games since the All-Star break.

-- Normally held to legendary status, Brock Holt has been very human since returning from the All-Star break. Holt is 6-for-26 since the break with two RBIs and three runs scored. Wednesday was the first time he was kept out of the lineup since his emergence two months earlier.


-- Ben Zobrist got off to a strong start in early July, but he appears to have been cooled off by the All-Star break. Zobrist was hitting .362 before the break but has a .105 average with two hits in the five games since.

-- After three years in Oakland, Grant Balfour's 2014 return to Tampa Bay hasn't been nearly as glorious as his first stint from 2007-10. Balfour has posted his highest ERA (5.40) and WHIP (1.58) since 2007.