Dustin Pedroia, Strong Starting Pitching Expected to Spark Red Sox Past Rays in Four-Game Series

Dustin PedroiaLast season, Tampa Bay visited Boston for a four-game April series that concluded on Patriots Day. It was a rare early-season bright spot for the Sox at Fenway, as Boston won three of four. It would be Boston’s only home series win until mid-May.

The Rays are back at Fenway for four this weekend, concluding with an 11 a.m. start on Patriots Day. Boston will open as about a -150 series favorite at Bovada. Series odds are given for a “win” — only the first three games of a four-game set.

Tampa Bay (4-5) is in the midst of a 10-game road trip and won its series finale in Texas on Wednesday to end a three-game skid. The Rays weren’t a very good offensive team last year, ranking No. 11 in the AL in runs and No. 12 in average. They also lost outfielder B.J. Upton to the Braves. The only Rays hitting so far in 2013 are Ben Zobrist (.364, 1 HR, 9 RBIs) and Evan Longoria (.345, 3 RBIs). No other batter is above .300, and new shortstop Yunel Escobar has three hits in 30 at-bats with eight strikeouts. The Rays have scored more than four runs in a game just twice.

Tampa Bay is set to start Alex Cobb in the opener Friday. He blanked Cleveland over 7 1/3 innings on four hits, winning his opener. Cobb had success against Boston in 2012, going 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA in three starts. The Sox hit .143 off Cobb. Jacoby Ellsbury has the lone Boston homer against him, but Tampa will still be an underdog in that game, even against Felix Doubront.

Saturday’s matchup will have a low run total, with reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price scheduled against Jon Lester. Price was 2-1 with a 2.94 ERA against Boston last year. Three of those starts were at Fenway, where Sox batters hit .275 off Price but were held homerless. Dustin Pedroia has fared well against Price in his career, batting .333 with a homer. Mike Napoli has struck out 10 times in 14 at-bats. The Sox will be around -130 favorites.

On Sunday, Tampa Bay is scheduled to start Jeremy Hellickson (0-1, 6.35). He has been roughed up for 13 hits and three home runs in 11 1/3 innings this season. Hellickson was 1-1 with a 4.71 ERA and allowed 29 hits and five homers in 28 2/3 innings against the Sox in 2012. Boston will miss David Ortiz against Hellickson, as he is hitting .368 with two homers in his career against the right-hander. The Sox will be big favorites behind Clay Buchholz.

Finally, on Monday, Roberto Hernandez will start for Tampa. The former Fausto Carmona won the fifth spot in the rotation but hasn’t been good, going 0-2 with a 6.08 ERA. His spot could soon be in jeopardy, even with Jeff Niemann‘s shoulder surgery. Hernandez only pitched three games with the Indians a year ago and didn’t face Boston.

The Rays and Sox split 18 meetings last year, with Tampa Bay winning the final four in late September. Boston was 4-5 at home in the series.

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