MLB Postseason Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays

MLB Postseason Preview: Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays

by October 7, 2021 1 comment

The American League postseason race looked like it was going to end in a crazy finish. Instead, it concluded in a fashion that included no Game 163 but did allow three AL East teams to advance to October. Two of those teams face off in the ALDS.

Very few people expected the Boston Red Sox to be in this position. The team struggled last season under interim manager Ron Roenicke, showing clear holes on the roster after trading Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers and losing Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery. However, they bounced back in 2021, finding huge additions in players like Kiké Hernández and Hunter Renfroe. Meanwhile, Nathan Eovaldi and Alex Verdugo exploded in huge ways.

The Tampa Bay Rays, meanwhile, were stuck in a secondary role behind the Red Sox for a good chunk of the season. In the end, though, Tampa Bay pulled ahead by a significant margin and secured the best record in the American League. This is a team fueled by its rookies. First-year pitchers Shane McClanahan and Shane Baz helped carry this team into the postseason while Randy Arozarena (yes, he still has rookie eligibility) and Wander Franco also exploded this season.

The series begins at Tropicana Field on Thursday, Oct. 7 at 8:07 p.m. on FS1. Tampa Bay will employ its two rookie hurlers—McClanahan and Baz—for Games 1 and 2 at home. Meanwhile, Boston opens the series with southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez on the mound. Game 3 will be held in Boston, as will Game 4 if necessary. The fifth and final game of the series would be held in St. Petersburg.

Three keys to victory for Red Sox

Don’t let the bats go quiet
The Red Sox’ bats were nearly silenced at some points near the end of the season, which played a major role in why they weren’t able to secure a postseason spot until Game 162. They barely escaped this situation in September but won’t have similar success in the higher-stakes postseason against the Rays. All players will be responsible for playing a role in this; momentum can go a long way.

Limit baserunning miscues
The Red Sox have been one of the worst teams on the basepaths this season, specifically in terms of making absent-minded mistakes. Christian Vazquez has been a major liability in this department and Alex Verdugo also cost the team a runner during a critical game last week.

Be smart with Chris Sale
Chris Sale is an absolute beast. The left-handed ace knows how to ramp things up, slow things down, and maximize his intensity. However, he has struggled in October play, going 1-2 with a 5.76 ERA through 25 innings of postseason work in his career. Alex Cora needs to find the perfect balance with Sale, allowing him to pitch consistently in the postseason while also pulling him if things look like they could go downhill.

Three keys to victory for Rays

The rookies need to cook
On one hand, McClanahan and Baz have looked really, really good. However, they have no postseason experience and pitch in a small market, so it remains a mystery how they will adjust to playing in October on national television. The same goes for Wander Franco, who thrived this season but hasn’t played postseason ball in his career. A slump from any of these rookies could spell disaster for the Rays.

Consistency from the vets
As much as the rookies need to thrive, the Rays’ veterans can also play a huge role in this series. Acquired at the trade deadline, Nelson Cruz hasn’t looked great since being flipped from Minnesota to Tampa Bay. However, he does have a proven track record in the postseason, hitting an impressive .288 with 17 home runs through 46 games. That’s absurd and could go a huge way in propelling the Rays over whoever stands in their way this fall. Don’t ignore Mike Zunino, either. The veteran backstop swatted a career-high 33 home runs this past season and hit .342 against lefties, which bodes well for the Rays’ matchups against Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale.

Stop getting thrown out
This is easier said than done, but the Rays have been caught stealing far too often. In fact, they lead baseball in this category, getting thrown out on 42 of 130 attempts. Tampa Bay should not stop being aggressive, but running into outs is super dangerous in the postseason. Every out is precious and no team can afford to give away outs left and right.

Analysis

We’re in for a very exciting series between these two teams. Boston seems to have found its groove after sweeping the Nationals and manhandling the Yankees in the Wild Card game. However, the Rays won their division for a reason, boasting a strong balance of hitting, pitching, youth, and experience. They also get home-field advantage in this series, and it’s possible for them to escape while playing just one game at the ferocious Fenway Park. In the end, the ALDS will be very close and seems likely to last all five games. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and the Rays are better suited to run the full 26.2 miles.

Prediction: Rays 3, Red Sox 2

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Andersen is a teenage sportswriter and reporter whose articles have appeared across the Prime Time Sports Talk, Sports Illustrated Kids, FantasyPros, and SB Nation platforms. He has also received credit from RotoWorld, CBS Sports, ESPN, Bleacher Report, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, The Athletic, SB Nation, NBC Sports, NY Post, and dozens of other sports sites for his reporting work.

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