Red Sox-Rays series preview: Sox look to halt skid against struggling Rays

May 23, 2014 - 11:43 am
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After a homestand they'd like to put behind them, the Red Sox will try to stop their slide as they take on the Rays for a three-game weekend set in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Last year, the Red Sox never lost more than three games in a row. In 2014, however, things are not quite the same. The Red Sox have dropped seven straight and were swept on the homestand, the first time the team has been swept on a homestand of six games or more since 1994.

"It's like a disease going around," David Ortiz said after Thursday'€™s loss (via MLB.com). "Nobody's really doing much. We're going to need to go back in and try to do something -- something different."

The Red Sox have been outscored 37-16 during the skid, and the pitching staff has allowed six or more runs in five straight games. Red Sox starters have also given up five runs or more in five straight.

"It starts with the guys that begin the game on the mound," manager John Farrell told MLB.com. "We've got to set the tone with our rotation. We've got to keep an opposing offense in check to give us some opportunities to capitalize on. That's not happening through these last seven games, obviously."

With the losing streak, the Red Sox have fallen to fourth place in the AL East with a 20-26 record, and trail the division-leading Blue Jays by five games.

Things haven'€™t been going all that much better for Joe Maddon's Rays, who occupy the cellar of the AL East with a 22-28 record. But they saw their four-game losing streak snapped thanks to some late-inning heroics from Sean Rodriguez, who smacked his team-leading fifth home run of the season in the 11th inning of Thursday'€™s contest against the A'€™s, giving the Rays a 5-2 victory and their first walk-off of the season. Prior to that inning, the Rays offense had scored just three runs in their previous 47 innings.

Both the Rays and the Red Sox are having trouble scoring runs. The Red Sox rank second to last in runs scored this month (73 through 21 games) while the Rays have scored just one more and rank third-worst, albeit they'€™ve played two less games than the Sox.

Below are the pitching matchups for the three-game set. The Red Sox have yet to name a starter for Sunday'€™s contest (which would have been Felix Doubront'€™s slot in the rotation), but it'€™s worth noting that Allen Webster is scheduled to start for Pawtucket on Sunday while Brandon Workman is slated to go on Friday night for the PawSox.

Friday: John Lackey (5-3. 4.01) vs. Chris Archer (3-2, 4.59) Saturday: Jake Peavy (1-2, 4.33) vs. David Price (4-4, 4.28) Sunday: TBD vs. Jake Odorizzi (2-4, 4.98) WHO'S HOT: RED SOX

-- Despite his defensive woes at shortstop and disappointment over shifting to third base with the arrival of Stephen Drew, Xander Bogaerts hasn'€™t let his troubles carry over into his offensive production. The 21-year-old is on a tear, going 12-for-his-last-29 (a .414 average) and clubbing three doubles and two home runs, including a towering shot in Thursday'€™s contest. Bogaerts has raised his line to a very solid .282/.378/.417 through 44 games.

-- Though there might not be room for him on the 25-man roster when Drew is ready for game action, Brock Holt is making the most of his time in the majors. The infielder got off to a slow start upon being recalled, but went 5-for-9 with two doubles in the three games against the Blue Jays. He'€™s batting .333 with a .400 OBP over the five games during this stint coupled with a seven-game stint in the majors earlier this season. He'll try his hand at generating some production out of the leadoff spot on Friday night.

-- Though the starting pitching has left a lot to be desired for the Red Sox, their bullpen has still been relatively sound. Burke Badenhop has been one of the more consistent members of the relief corps, coming into Friday with a 2.36 ERA through 26 2/3 innings. Although he has given up an unearned run, his streak of 17 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run is still in tact and dates back to April 21.

WHO'S HOT: RAYS

-- James Loney has been swinging a hot bat in the middle of an otherwise cool lineup. Loney has picked up where he left off in 2013, getting on base (he has a .376 OBP) and hitting for a high average (.310, highest among Rays regulars), and he'€™s been producing consistently all season for the Rays.

-- The Rays bullpen has been a little shaky at times, but Jake McGee has impressed, posting a 1.33 ERA in 20 1/3 innings. McGee is in the midst of a 10-appearance scoreless streak, allowing just six hits while striking out 10 over nine innings.

-- Yunel Escobar'€™s bat is heating up, with the shortstop going 8-for-19 with a home run and three RBIs over his last six games. Escobar has been producing pretty steadily all month long, hitting .333/.416/.455 in May after compiling a mediocre .219/.279/.292 line through his first month.

WHO'S NOT: RED SOX

-- Grady Sizemore looked to be heating up briefly, but his struggles at the plate have intensified. He'€™s gone 1-for-16 with a walk and two strikeouts over his last five games, while grounding into two double plays. Sizemore'€™s line through 34 games is down to .218/.293/.336.

-- Though the entire offense has been scuffling, no one looks more frustrated at the plate than Ortiz. His 10-game hitting streak (over which he went 19-for-40 with three doubles and five home runs) was broken on Sunday against the Tigers, and the slugger is now mired in a 0-for-17 slump, striking out four times while drawing three walks.

-- Every time it seems like Edward Mujica is taking a step forward, his next outing he seems to take a step back. After a couple of scoreless outings against the Tigers, Mujica allowed two runs on four hits (both the runs came on home runs, however) in an inning and two-thirds on Tuesday against the Blue Jays. Mujica has been shaving his ERA down little by little, but it still stands at 8.04 through 15 2/3 innings this season.

WHO'S NOT: RAYS

-- At least thus far, Grant Balfour'€™s return to the Rays hasn'€™t gone quite as the team would have hoped. The closer'€™s second blown save of the season set the stage for Rodriguez'€™s dramatics in the 11th. He'€™s allowed runs in three of his nine appearances this month, including an ugly outing back on May 15 in which he gave up three runs on two walks and a hit without recording an out. Balfour does have eight saves, but owns a 5.89 ERA in 18 appearances.

-- The Rays offense has been struggling, and a big part of that could be due to Evan Longoria'€™s recent lack of production. The third baseman is batting just .118 over his last 10 games and just .205 over 21 games in May. Longoria actually owns the third-worst OPS among Rays regulars (.685), and he has just one extra-base hit (a double) in his last 59 plate appearances.

-- Wil Myers is struggling slightly in his sophomore season, batting .238/.307/.359 on the season with four home runs and 10 doubles. He has just two hits in his last 22 at-bats, though he has walked four times.
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