The Red Sox will once again try to play spoiler as they take on the Tampa Bay Rays in a four-game set.
While Boston's last attempt to play spoiler ended with just one win in three tries against the New York Yankees, beating the Rays would be nearly as sweet. Currently trailing by four games in the wild card, the Sox could effectively end Tampa's season with a few wins here.
The problem will be scoring any runs at all. Any. While they've given up 16 over their last three games, the Rays' pitching and defense is top class, and Boston's offense...is less so.
Boston Red Sox (66-81) Vs. Tampa Bay Rays (78-68)
Monday, September 17, 7:10 p.m. EST
NESN/MLB Network, WEEI
Aaron Cook (3-10, 5.18 ERA) vs. Alex Cobb (9-8, 4.26 ERA)
The teams will start with a matchup of two of their weakest options as Aaron Cook takes on Alex Cobb. Cook's put together a couple of decent games, but he's not pitching sustainably for himself at all. Cook, of course, relies on ground balls, and he's had about half as many fly balls as ground balls in his last three outings. Even against the Rays, if he can't get the ball down, he's going to be in trouble.
While Cobb's overall numbers don't look terribly strong, and he's still probably the weakest rotation member the Sox will face, even he offers lots of reasons for the Sox to fear him. For instance, aside from a seven-run disaster on the 18th, Cobb has allowed an average of less than 1.5 runs in his last seven outings dating back to August 1st. For a team that can't score against good pitchers, it's going to be just the first in a series of challenges.
Tuesday, September 18, 7:10 p.m. EST
Felix Doubront (10-9, 5.11 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (8-10, 3.22 ERA)
Felix Doubront is still starting, despite the organization publicly considering shutting him down. It's hard to say whether his last outing, featuring another mid-game implosion starting around his 50th pitch, five walks, but only two runs in six innings was a mark in his favor, or against him. If he can take advantage of Tampa's weak lineup to build on that outing, then all the better.
It's been a while since Jeremy Hellickson has gone very deep into a game between a relatively low pitch limit and general inefficiency. In that way you can draw some easy comparisons to Felix Doubront, but with Hellickson having more experience with heavy pitch counts and the Rays having taken the conservative approach earlier, he's still going strong.
Wednesday, September 19, 7:10 p.m. EST
Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-5, 7.14 ERA) vs. Chris Archer (0-3, 3.22 ERA)
Daisuke was...not entirely awful in his last start. Which means he's all-the-more likely to be awful in this start. Normally that sounds like the Gambler's Fallacy, but this is Daisuke, and Daisuke is bad, often at the worst possible time.
Chris Archer is the most recent addition to Tampa's increasingly unfair collection of young pitching talent. Normally this fifth start against the Red Sox would be a good testing ground for him, but after seven strong innings against the Rangers he likely doesn't need any more testing, and given their awful lineup the Red Sox likely can't provide it. If the Sox can't hit Brandon Morrow's 95 MPH fastball, Archer's 98 will just blow them away.
Thursday, September 20, 7:10 p.m. EST
Clay Buchholz (11-6, 4.33 ERA) vs. David Price (18-5, 2.54 ERA)
Both teams have saved the best for last, which is probably not ideal for the Red Sox. Clay Buchholz worked around some early control difficulties in his last outing to hold the fort down for seven innings, but we haven't seen him really be all-around dominant of late. Hopefully the Rays will provide him with an opportunity to reclaim that level of performance, because if they don't then the Red Sox aren't likely to win this game given that they'll come up against David Price. Aside from one implosion against Texas, Price has been an absolute monster for months now, and really even his worst this season--a "rough" 3.29 ERA June--is better than anything the Red Sox have to offer.