Besides the bitterness, how much money could any of us had made at the local watering hole taking wagers (against the betting odds) that at the end of May these would be the two worst teams in the AL East? Let’s take a look at who might have the upper hand in the series lid-lifter.
Tampa Bay Keeps Adding Questions, not Finding Answers
This has been the kind of season in which those working the MLB odds and making sports picks would have thought more than once about Tampa Bay. You looked at the roster in March, and wondered how this team would ever win 90 games, yet they did four consecutive years. That streak looks like it is going to end with a thud as manager Joe Maddon just might not have the horses this season to even break .500.
In baseball circles, it is known as the “Tampa Bay Way:” strong starting pitching saves the bullpen, they have home-grown talent, or are able to determine a certain type of hurler who meets their very specific criteria. This season, the starting pitchers' injuries led to scrambling, and the bullpen (instead of being set) has been in flux, which forced them to use more guys because of shorter starts. The offense has no juice as Evan Longoria, and others are having ordinary seasons. This is especially true on the road where the Rays are the most meager scoring squad in the American League at 3.3 runs per contest. What does Tampa Bay do to turn their season around? Great question.
Boston Revival on the Way?
Maybe it turns out that all that the Red Sox needed was to get a fire lighted under their behinds. Last Sunday, the benches emptied when Boston and the Rays met, with Tampa Bay sweeping the Red Sox, and sending them to their 10th straight defeat. Since then, Boston has shown a spark with a 4-0 record, and those covering the Red Sox have talked about the locker room being completely clear of the sentiments of the atrocious losing streak. In fact, more than one player has openly talked about a 10-game winning stretch coming very soon to place them back in the AL East race. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen, but make no mistake: Boston has veteran leadership, and if the young players can gain the confidence by results, and Jake Peavy and Clay Buchholz find a positive groove, the Red Sox will be finding bettors supporting them, rather than betting against them.
Pitching Matchup for Friday
It has been an uneasy season for David Price (4-4, 4.42 ERA, 1.18 WHIP), lacking command seemingly from pitch to pitch. Lifetime, opponents have a .235 batting average against him; this season is .272, far and away the highest of his career. Here is a crazy stat: Price is close to the AL lead in hits allowed (83) and strikeouts (84) and this has not been accomplished in the Majors since 1971.
Brandon Workman (0-0, 3.18, 1.15) makes his second start of the season, filling in for the injured Felix Doubront. Workman's first start was also against Tampa Bay last Sunday, after being called up from Triple-A. In that outing the right-hander allowed five hits, and three runs over five innings. The Boston front office believes Workman can become a middle of the rotation performer. Now it is up to him to prove it.
For years, MLB baseball handicappers marveled at how Tampa Bay was able to assemble a top notch bullpen almost every season in spite of having numerous changes. This year, the Rays have not been able to find the magic, and have an ERA of 4.06. They also have seven blown saves, leading to a paltry save percentage of just 56 percent. Besides not having the talent of the past, this group is overworked, having tossed the most innings in the league.
For all the shortcoming of Boston this season, the bullpen has been a strength. Red Sox hurlers have the lowest ERA at 2.83 and the highest save percentage at 81 percent in the AL. They help themselves by avoiding big innings, ranking fourth in walks permitted and being third in strikeouts.
Head to Head Combat and Betting Odds
Boston has a slight lead over the Rays at Fenway Park the last trio of years at 13-11, and will be in revenge-mode after last weekend’s sweep, and being 1-5 versus the Rays this season. Considering two struggling offenses, sportsbooks have posted of total of 8, with Tampa Bay up five cents to -130 road favorites. Price is 10-7 with a 3.38 ERA against the BoSox and is 9-1 'over' as a road favorite of -125 to -150 the last three seasons.
The Winner Is….
Hard to argue with Tampa Bay being 28-10 in road games with Price toeing the rubber against division opponents, but the Red Sox look sharp and they are 65-32 after three straight games with no home runs. Let’s take the home team!
MLB Free Picks: Boston wins