Tampa Bay Rays vs. Boston Red Sox: Keys to Each Team Winning ALDS Game 2
Each team enters with its own clear aspirations. Coming off a 12-2 rout, the Red Sox aim to repeat the process and open a commanding 2-0 series advantage. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, will do everything possible to stop the bleeding now and even up the matchup before the backdrop shifts to Tropicana Field.
Still, all of that is very vague. Aren't you wondering which circumstances the Rays and Red Sox need to exploit to achieve their desired results?
If so, you came to the right place.
Just like the one we created prior to the opener, here is a brief list of keys that will determine the final score.
*Stats provided by Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
Tampa Bay Rays: David Price Trusting His Changeup
David Price's best chance of producing a quality start is to feed the opposition a steady diet of changeups. Boston's offense has been merely in the middle of the pack against the pitch, totaling only four runs above average during the regular season. It results in more soft contact and swings-and-misses.
The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner will need to find the right balance in his pitch selection. Abandoning the heater in big moments and allowing the Red Sox to anticipate off-speed offerings would end in disaster.
Rather, Price should get creative by occasionally using changeups in two-strike counts and even against left-handed batters. It's high-risk/high-reward, but that's the only way to shut down the Red Sox.
Boston Red Sox: John Lackey Forgetting About the Regular Season
John Lackey's 2013 campaign was undoubtedly a success.
Coming off Tommy John surgery, the veteran right-hander posted a 3.52 earned run average in 29 starts. He also finished with a career-best strikeout-to-walk ratio.
However, nothing positive can come from Lackey dwelling on the recent past.
Despite strong peripherals, the 34-year-old went 3-7 in his last 13 starts. He received minimal run support from a usually extraordinary offense.
Moreover, the Tampa Bay Rays were one of the few teams that performed well against him this season. Their batters combined for 19 hits in only 10 innings (two starts). Lackey hasn't faced the Rays at Fenway Park since August 2011, and reliving that experience would be pointless considering all the roster changes that have since taken place.
Only the present conditions should affect his preparation.
Boston's bats have never been hotter, plus Lackey has the luxury of working with defensive-minded David Ross in Game 2. It's important for him to recognize those factors and adjust accordingly.
Tampa Bay Rays: Staying Away from the Bullpen
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon let David Price go the distance against the Texas Rangers in Monday's tiebreaker.
Regardless of pitch count, that looks like the wisest course of action for Maddon to take in this pivotal game.
Clearly, 2013 hasn't been a banner year for Tampa Bay's bullpen. Fernando Rodney blew eight saves in the regular season, and Jake McGee regularly worked in high-leverage spots despite a 4.02 ERA. McGee lives and dies with his fastball, and as I mentioned earlier, the Red Sox perform at their best against fastballs.
In a situation where the Rays cannot afford to lose, Maddon needs to resist the temptation to use fresh arms in the later innings.
Boston Red Sox: Swinging for the Fences
Wil Myers' gaffe in right field was easily the most memorable play from Friday's blowout. It also served as a reminder that his limited major league experience and unfamiliarity with Fenway Park's quirky dimensions can be exploited.
On that same note, center fielder Desmond Jennings is still hampered by a hamstring injury. His range is suffering as a result.
By contrast, the Rays set the gold standard for infield defense. No other playoff team saves more runs with its positioning, decision-making and sure-handedness.
The Red Sox will throw away plate appearances and ruin promising rallies if they concern themselves with bunting or beating the shift.
Rather, manager John Farrell should instruct his batters to sit on first-pitch fastballs that can be driven into the outfield. Those will be the team's best opportunities to get results from their balls in play.
Tampa Bay Rays: Capitalizing with Runners in Scoring Position
The biggest difference between the pre-injury John Lackey and the revitalized, top-of-the-rotation-caliber version is performance with runners in scoring position.
When the right-hander hit rock bottom in 2011, opponents batted .342/.427/.529 with RISP, homering five times in 226 plate appearances. In 2013? They were an anemic .229/.287/.276 and took him deep only once in 190 opportunities.
Game 1 should have been an educational experience for the Rays. They out-homered the Red Sox 2-0, yet they were annihilated on the scoreboard.
Only a few other starters in these MLB playoffs throw a higher percentage of first-pitch strikes than Lackey, one of them being the Rays' counterpart David Price. However, because of his inferior stuff, Lackey is more reliant on expanding the strike zone once he gets ahead.
That means Tampa Bay—we're looking at you, Delmon Young—must prioritize selectivity, especially when Boston's crafty veteran is seemingly on the ropes.