Evan Longoria and the Rays are in fourth place in the AL East but within striking distance of a playoff berth. (Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Red Sox-Rays series preview

July 31, 2015 - 9:01 am
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Any hope that the Red Sox could make a run to the playoffs has been expunged since the All-Star break. Since returning, the Red Sox have gone 3-11, including most recently dropping three of four to the White Sox.

The prolonged slump has brought the Red Sox'€™ record to 45-58, placing them firmly in last place in the American League East, 13 games behind the division-leading Yankees. The Sox are tied for the worst record in the AL with the A'€™s.

"It [stinks]. Come here every day, work hard to go out there and try to execute as a team," Mike Napoli said after a loss to the White Sox. "We're not getting it done. It's not fun. You need to come in, keep playing hard, play the game the right way and try to make things turn into good things, positive things on the field. Just got to keep going."

The Sox will be taking on the Rays in a weekend series at Fenway. The Rays are fourth in the AL East. The team has a 51-52 record and is seven games back of the Yanks. The Yankees have started to separate themselves from the pack, as they hold a six-game lead over both the Orioles and Jays.

To stay in the hunt, and at least within reach of those Orioles and Jays, the Rays need to have success in this weekend'€™s series in Boston.

For the Rays, the problem has been on the offensive side. The team has scored 367 runs, placing it 26th in baseball. As a team, the Rays own a 27th-best .238 batting average and 24th-best .684 OPS.

On the mound, the team has been significantly more proficient. Tampa owns a 3.50 team ERA, which is third best in the American League. The Sox are a full run worse, with a 4.50 team ERA. The Rays have a .233 batting average against, which is tops in the AL. They have allowed the third-fewest runs in the league.

The Rays'€™ anemic offense has to some degree negated the effectiveness of their pitching staff, as the they have a minus-13 run differential that places them ninth in the AL.

And Tampa Bay lost one of its more reliable offensive players when it traded outfielder David DeJesus to the Angels on Tuesday, receiving minor league pitcher Eduar Lopez in return. DeJesus was hitting .259 with five home runs and 26 RBIs, although he was likely to lose playing time with the impending return of Desmond Jennings from the injured list.

"The message to the fans is, we believe in this club," president of baseball operations Matt Silverman said after the deal. "We believe in the players that we have. And the ones who are going to be coming back."

Here are the pitching matchups for the series:

Friday: Eduardo Rodriguez (6-3, 4.26 ERA) vs. Erasmo Ramirez (8-4, 3.74 ERA) Saturday: Joe Kelly (2-6, 5.94 ERA) vs. Matt Moore (1-2, 7.61 ERA) Sunday: Wade Miley (8-9, 4.65 ERA) vs. Nathan Karns (6-5, 3.37 ERA)

WHO'S HOT: RED SOX

-- Xander Bogaerts has continued to perform like one of the best shortstops in the American League. In the month of July, the Aruban has hit .386 with 15 RBIs while hitting out of the three-hole in the lineup. He has hit .419 in the past week.

-- While having only played in four games since being called back up, Rusney Castillo has at least begun to show fans why the Red Sox invested $72.5 million in the Cuban import. In the minuscule sample size, Castillo has hit .417, including a double and towering homer to straightaway center Thursday night against the White Sox.

-- Designated hitter David Ortiz has started to return to his mashing ways recently. In July, Ortiz has hit .309 with six doubles and a 1.046 OPS. He has knocked seven homers and has a whopping 22 RBIs in 22 games.

WHO'S HOT: RAYS

-- In his last six games, Curt Casali is hitting a fiery .438. The catcher has managed to hit a whopping five home runs just since July 25, including back-to-back multi-homer games against Detroit on Monday and Tuesday.

-- Evan Longoria hasn't quite had superstar numbers this season, but he has been great recently. In his past week, the third baseman is hitting .318 with two homers and three doubles. His OPS in that span is 1.102.

-- Chris Archer has been one of the best pitchers in the American League all season. He has a 2.54 ERA (sixth in the AL) and 173 strikeouts to go with a 0.99 WHIP (both second in the AL). Archer took a loss to Detroit in his last outing, but only after surrendering two unearned runs and carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning.

WHO'S NOT: RED SOX

-- Outfielder Mookie Betts has impressed many in his first full season in Boston, but he has sputtered slightly at the plate this month. He is hitting just .239 and has a sub-.700 OPS in July.

-- While playing his usual disorganized and ugly defense in left field, Hanley Ramirez had struggled hitting. In July he has a .211 average and .242 OBP. He has struck out 22 times in 24 games.

-- Third baseman Pablo Sandoval hasn't had the best time of it lately. He left a game with dehydration on Wednesday in 90-degree heat. On Thursday night, Sandoval left the game after being hit by a pitch that he swung at and missed for strike three. He has also hit just .241 with a .593 OPS this month.

WHO'S NOT: RAYS

-- Outfielder Kevin Kiermaier is hitting only .203 in July. In 79 at-bats, he has just three RBIs and is without a homer over that span. He is 3-for-16 with a .188 average in the last week.

-- Joey Butler has hit only .186 in 20 games this month. He has struck out 18 times and has only one extra-base hit in July. The designated hitter's average has been brought down to .289 as a result.

-- Steven Souza Jr. has been another Ray struggling at the plate of late. In his last 13 games, Souza has a .190 batting average. To say that he has been strikeout-prone would be something of an understatement: Souza has 21 punchouts in 42 at-bats over that span, striking out half of his times at the plate.

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