The Red Sox can put some distance between themselves and the white-hot Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East race this week during their four-game series. But the Rays won’t be easy to hold off, especially after Monday’s Tampa Bay win.
The Rays haven’t lost a series since dropping two of three at Fenway on June 18-19 (when the Sox swept a doubleheader). They entered this one having won 17 of 19 games. On June 22, the Rays were tied with the Blue Jays for last in the AL East, but they’re now just 1/2 game behind the Red Sox. Boston is a -145 series favorite (first three games only), with Tampa at +115.
The Rays have their own Yasiel Puig-type in rookie slugger Wil Myers. Tampa Bay is 22-8 entering Monday since Myers was called up from Triple-A. The Sox’ Jose Iglesias might be the AL Rookie of the Year favorite right now, but Myers is closing the gap, especially with Iglesias’ bat having cooled off in July. Tampa Bay also is getting big seasons from guys such as first baseman James Loney and second baseman Kelly Johnson, veteran castoffs who could have been had by any team this offseason.
Boston remains the even money favorite to win the AL East, with Tampa Bay at +160.
Tampa starts Roberto Hernandez — formerly Fausto Carmona — Tuesday. Hernandez (5-10, 4.90 ERA) is the weak link of the staff and might not be in the rotation much longer. The righty has been decent recently, allowing exactly three earned runs in each of his past three starts. The Rays have won the past two. Hernandez faced the Sox on June 11 at Tropicana Field and allowed three earned runs and eight hits over seven innings in the Rays’ 8-3 win. That’s the only start in Hernandez’s past eight in which he didn’t allow a homer. He also tied a season high with seven strikeouts.
A David Ortiz hitting prop might be a wise baseball bet here, as Big Papi is batting .409 with a homer and five RBIs in his career off Hernandez. Dustin Pedroia is just 1-for-14 lifetime against Hernandez.
On Wednesday, reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price takes the mound for the Rays. Price (4-5, 4.03) started the season terribly and then landed on the disabled list. He has been a different pitcher since returning, allowing seven total earned runs over four starts. The Rays have won three of them. His final start before going on the DL was May 15 against Boston, and Price lasted just 2 1/3 innings, allowing four runs. He left with an injury in the third inning after allowing an RBI single to Ortiz, who is 6-for-27 in his career off Price.
Mike Napoli struggles big time against Price — he has struck out 11 times in 18 at-bats. Pedroia has solved Price well, batting .343 with a homer in his career against the lefty.
Jeremy Hellickson (9-3, 4.62) is Tampa’s scheduled starter Thursday. He hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his past six starts. That run started when Hellickson gave up two runs in six innings of a 6-2 victory at Boston on June 19. He’s 4-2 with a 4.14 ERA career against the Red Sox.