The Boston Red Sox were riding the high of taking out the New York Yankees in the American League Wild Card Game on Tuesday … until they faced reality in the form of the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays dominated Boston in Thursday’s Game 1 of the AL Division, taking a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series with a 5-0 shutout of Boston that didn’t even feel that close. Now, Tampa can put the Red Sox on the ropes with a win in Game 2 on Friday night.
Making his postseason debut, Tampa Bay’s impressive rookie southpaw, Shane McClanahan, scattered five singles in five really strong innings to shut down a potent Red Sox offense. He got all the run support he needed in the bottom of the first, when fellow rookie Wander Franco drove in Randy Arozarena (another rookie) with a hard-hit double and Yandy Díaz scored Franco with an infield single. Arozarena also went on to hit a home run and pull off a perfect straight steal of home to cap off another signature playoff performance from the 26-year-old.
The Rays’ bullpen, which was characteristically sharp in relief of McClanahan, might be called on early on Friday to spell Game 2 starter Shane Baz. Baz is another rookie who only made three major league starts in the regular season and is now starting in the postseason. He has been stellar so far in the majors but hasn’t thrown more than 82 pitches in a game, so his leash may be short. Boston ace Chris Sale will be on the mound to try and keep the Red Sox from falling into a 2-0 hole.
First pitch from Tropicana Field on Friday is at 7:02 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Rays as -140 moneyline favorites while the Red Sox are +125. MLB playoff odds have the over/under at 7½ runs.
Baz Has Been Electric
The final piece the Rays received in the much-discussed Chris Archer trade, Baz was a top prospect until he made his debut for Tampa in September. All he has done since is cement the idea that he is likely going to be just another ace-type arm for the Rays. It has been a very, very small sample (just 13.1 innings) but Baz looks legit and the Tampa Bay Rays trust him enough to give him an ALDS start.
Look for Baz to come close to matching McClanahan’s production from Thursday. The Red Sox might be without J.D. Martinez (ankle) once again and will have to make do with an ailing Rafael Devers, who is apparently dealing with some kind of arm issue. Those two guys make up a significant chunk of Boston’s offensive production and either not facing them (or facing lessened versions) would really help Baz.
It was going to be difficult for the Red Sox to beat the Rays in this series to begin with. Doing so with Rafael Devers clearly compromised — he is an absolute gamer and is trying to play through an arm injury suffered in the wild card game — is going to be that much harder.
Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 8, 2021
If you’re betting online, side with the rookie and the Rays on the runline. It’s really good value and Tampa Bay is just a much better team than the Red Sox in basically all aspects of the game. They could sweep this series.
Sale Might Not Be Himself Yet
The Boston Red Sox are still waiting for Sale, who only made nine starts in 2021 after coming back from Tommy John surgery that cost him the whole 2020 season, to really return to his usual form. He pitched well in those 42.2 innings — 3.16 ERA with 11 strikeouts per nine innings — but allowed more than a hit per inning and posted his highest walk rate since 2012.
Clearly, the Sale of old isn’t back just yet and that’s totally understandable. However, in a best-of-five series — already down 1-0 — the Red Sox are going to need him to be a whole lot better if they’re going to get even. It certainly doesn’t help that the Rays are firing on all cylinders and they are so incredibly balanced with power, contact and speed distributed throughout their lineup and bench.
So, it’s not a mystery why the MLB lines are favoring the Rays so much even with Sale on the mound. While he’ll probably be at full strength, or close to it, by next season, Boston doesn’t have the luxury of waiting around for that. Expect Tampa Bay to manufacture a few runs early which should be enough to hold off the Red Sox, especially with the shaky Boston bullpen backing Sale up.
Top Bullpen Arms Rested for Rays
To make matters worse for the Red Sox, Game 1 was so out of hand that Tampa didn’t need to use any of its inner-circle, high-leverage relievers. Pete Fairbanks, Andrew Kittredge and Collin McHugh were the three most trusted Rays relievers in big moments during the regular season and none of them had to pitch on Thursday so they’ll be fully rested for Game 2.
To be fair, the whole bullpen is so good that most of their options would get high-leverage innings for other teams — and have gotten them for Tampa Bay at different times this year — but there’s a gap in performance between Fairbanks/Kittredge/McHugh and JT Chargois, David Robertson and J.P. Feyereisen, who closed things out in Game 1. Even in a loss, the Red Sox had to keep things close enough so Kevin Cash would have to use one of his better arms. But, they didn’t so Boston is in an even worse spot for Friday’s night game.
As far as MLB picks go, you should take the juice and pick Tampa to win by a few runs.