Rays-Red Sox Preview

The Boston Red Sox didn’t mind waiting a few days to start their
playoffs.

Not after missing them for the past three seasons.

Not after the September collapse that ruined their chances in
2011.

And certainly not after they stumbled to the club’s worst record
in 48 years in 2012.

”This was part of the mindset at the end of last year, a strong
desire to rewrite what took place,” Red Sox manager John Farrell
said Thursday.

The revised edition tied the St. Louis Cardinals for the best
record, was the highest scoring team in the majors and turned a
toxic clubhouse atmosphere into a fun-loving one that was a big
reason the Red Sox had 28 more wins than they did last season.

They’ll try for their first in the playoffs on Friday against
the Tampa Bay Rays in the opener of the best-of-five AL division
series.

”Guys in here love playing baseball,” Red Sox left fielder
Jonny Gomes said. ”It’s a bunch of baseball junkies, so I’m sure
they’ll be happy to strap on their cleats.”

Boston ended its regular season on Sunday then waited for its
opponent to be determined.

Tampa Bay had to win three road games to get this far – at
Toronto on Sunday to force a tiebreaker for the second AL wild-card
spot, at Texas on Monday night in that tiebreaker, and at Cleveland
on Wednesday night to advance to the ALDS.

”It’s quite an accomplishment,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
”And, moving forward, I want to believe it’s going to create some
kind of different form of momentum going into this series because
we’ve been playing. We’ve been playing under duress and we’re not
tired.”

But the Red Sox don’t think their layoff will hurt.

”It’s just a second All-Star break for us,” Gomes said after a
nearly two-hour team workout Thursday.

The Rays finished six games behind the Red Sox in the AL East
but are on a roll with 10 wins in their last 12 games. And they
have star left-handers Matt Moore and David Price ready to go in
the first two games at Fenway Park.

Moore (17-4) is 9-1 in his last 13 starts. Price (10-8) is
coming off a 5-2, complete-game win against the Rangers in the
tiebreaker. In a span of eight days in late July, they combined to
go 3-0 against the Red Sox in Boston with each pitching a complete
game.

More bad news for the Red Sox: the Rays are 14-2 on the road
when Moore starts.

”For me going into a game on the road, I try to take that as a
little bit more of a challenge than when you’re at home” with
support from the crowd, Moore said. ”There’s nothing better than
winning on the road in an environment like this.”

The Red Sox have a pretty good left-hander themselves set for
the opener. Jon Lester (15-8) was 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA in his last
eight starts and 7-2 with a 2.57 ERA since the All-Star break.

”To be named Game 1 starter, especially after last year,”
Lester said, ”big honor, obviously, very excited.”

Lester had his worst season in 2012 with a 9-14 record and 4.82
ERA. Even worse was the team’s 69-93 record and clubhouse discord
under Bobby Valentine, who was fired after his only season as
Boston’s manager. He took over from Terry Francona after Boston
went 7-20 the previous September.

”Last year was just horrendous all the way around,” Lester
said.

And this year?

No losing streak longer than three games. A total of 158 days in
first place. And a lineup with no easy outs.

”It’s nine guys in the lineup getting it done,” Gomes said,
but ”it’s a clean slate as of (Friday). So it’s zeroes across the
board.”

Farrell said the righty-hitting Gomes, a platoon player, would
start in left field in the first two games. He also said
first-string catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and backup David Ross
would split the first two games.

Third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who bats right-handed, could be
a key against Moore and Price.

”He’s shown the ability to be streaky, and when he’s in those
upticks it really lengthens our lineup,” Farrell said. ”I will
tell you that going up against left-handed starters, we’re going to
need him.”

Middlebrooks’ position is the only spot where the Rays have an
obvious edge. Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria had three hits,
including his 32nd homer, in the tiebreaker in Texas.

”He comes in here swinging the bat very well,” Farrell said.
”And, seemingly, in those key moments he’s come up with some big
hits. So anytime we focus on one given player, it’s not so much
that particular guy, it’s what we do with the guys ahead of him in
the order. And if we can minimize the opportunities when he comes
to the plate, we might put ourselves in a decent position.”

Both teams know each other very well, having met 19 times this
season with the Red Sox winning 12.

But Maddon thinks the Rays surge just to reach the ALDS will
help them.

”I want to believe the journey we’ve just gone through is going
to hopefully relax our hitters a bit,” he said. ”So you might see
a better offensive ballclub.”