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ALDS Preview: The Underdogs of the AL East Go Another Round

Following a decisive Wild Card win, the Boston Red Sox earn another shot against a familiar foe, the Tampa Bay Rays. Who will earn a berth in the ALCS?

The Boston Red Sox put away fellow AL East team the New York Yankees in Tuesday’s Wild Card game. There is little rest for the BoSox as they travel to face the AL East Division Champion, the Tamp Bay Rays.

Boston is living up to the former “Cardiac Kids” nickname, needing a comeback in Game 162 to make the playoffs period. Despite several injuries, including slugger J.D. Martinez, and several question marks in the lineup, the Red Sox overcame the Yankees, 6-2. The road does not get any easier, as they travel to Tampa Bay.

“Probably coming into the season, everybody talked about [Tampa Bay] being the best team in the big leagues,” Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “We have a huge challenge, but we’re ready for it.”

The Rays were the AL’s only team to reach 100 wins in 2021, and one of three in all of MLB. Starting Oct. 7, Tampa Bay looks to provide a quick end to Boston’s feel-good 2021 season. According to ESPN, the Rays are the favorite to represent the AL in the World Series and have the second-best odds to win. Tampa Bay is no stranger to the postseason, as they won the AL East in 2020 and represented the AL that same year.

2021 Matchups

The Rays and Red Sox had a competitive regular-season series, but Tampa Bay led the series 11-8. Home field has been a key metric in 2021, and both teams win more in front of their fans. The series, starting at Tropicana Field, may be a key factor in the series. The best-of-five series starts with two games in Tampa Bay followed by a trip to Boston.

The Rays did not lose a series against Boston in 2021’s latter half. The closest series was a four-game series at the end of August, where the two teams split the series.

Scoring with the Homer

The ALDS features two of baseball’s best power-hitting lineups. While Boston beat New York with help from the long-ball, can the Rays continue their use of it?

Both Boston and Tampa Bay ranked in MLB’s top 10 for home runs in 2021. This can make for a highlight-reel series between two teams without their pitching at 100 percent.

According to ESPN, “the Rays are the third-most dependent on homers to get runs”. Players such as second baseman Brandon Lowe and catcher Mike Zunino bring the pop to the Rays lineup while third baseman Rafael Devers and outfielder Hunter Renfroe both have more than 30 home runs for Boston. If Boston sees Martinez return, he could provide Boston the power-hitting edge.

Pitching

If pitching-by-committee was a term in baseball, the Rays would be the ideal team.

Tampa Bay had the AL’s best ERA in the regular season, with a 3.24 ERA from their bullpen, also the top mark in the AL. 24-year-old Shane McClanahan starts for Tampa Bay in Game 1, while Eduardo Rodriguez will start for Boston.

“It means a lot because of everything that I went through last year and I have the opportunity to throw the first inning in the ALDS,” said Rodriguez. “It feels really good. It’s just special. I feel like it’s really special for me to have the opportunity to start a game like that.”

Rodriguez is an interesting choice against Tampa Bay as one of his best starts this season was at Tropicana Field on Sept. 2 where he pitched six shutout innings.

McClanahan has been one of Tampa Bay’s best starters down the stretch, especially with a 2.81 ERA in three starts against Boston.

Predictions

Predicting the Rays losing this series feels foolish. They have been a quiet AL stalwart and have a great mix of veteran and young talent. But, the Red Sox have some pieces to take a game in the series. Ultimately, Tampa Bay will win this series.

Tampa Bay wins ALDS, 3-1

 

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