Tampa Bay Rays' Wander Franco,
Tampa Bay Rays' Wander Franco, left, strikes out in the third inning against the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of a baseball American League Division Series, Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

SGG Pick of the Day ALDS Game 3 Rays vs Red Sox

Mike Shara

Tampa Bay at Boston | 4:07 pm Sunday, October 10 at Fenway Park

Series tied 1-1

Pitching matchup: Drew Rasmussen (4-1, 2.84) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (11-9, 3.75)

ODDS: Red Sox -105 (BetMGM)

OVER/UNDER: 8.5 (FanDuel)

SPREAD: Rays -1.5 (DraftKings)

If you were a member of the Rays organization and I told you that you’d win Game One in convincing fashion and that then Boston starter Chris Sale would allow five earned runs in the first inning of Game Two and then exited the game, you’d probably feel pretty good about heading into Fenway ahead two games to none. Well…guess again. We all saw the Red Sox score twelve runs and hit five home runs after Sale’s early exit, crushing the usually reliable Tampa bullpen. Welcome to the Red Sox vs. Rays – where expectations, momentum and logic don’t seem to amount to much at all, and it’s my job to try to predict what happens…

Red Sox ace Nathan Eovaldi last pitched in the Wild Card game vs. the Yankees on Tuesday, where he outpitched Gerrit Cole, allowing just one run in 5.1 innings while striking out eight and allowing zero walks. On the season, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was almost a full run better than his ERA (2.79 to 3.75). The Red Sox are a substandard defensive team and that might matter more against the younger, more athletic Rays than it did against the all-or-nothing Yankees. He certainly pitched very well vs. the Rays this year with a 2-1 record, 2.39 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 26 innings. He also was considerably better at home than on the road in 2021, despite Fenway Park’s cozy dimensions.

The Rays will start Drew Rasmussen. If your immediate response to that sentence is “the Rays will start who?”, you’re not alone. The…uh…unheralded Rasmussen only arrived in Tampa midseason as part of the Willy Adames trade with Milwaukee.  Of course as soon as he put  on a Rays uniform he became the second coming of Jim Palmer, finishing with a 2.44 ERA in 59 innings over 20 appearances (10 starts) in the American League. This year he held the Red Sox to just one earned run over 8.1 innings in three appearances. He’s not likely to pitch deep into this game, and the Rays will have fireballing righty Luis Patino waiting in the wings to relieve him. The Red Sox will face three or four different pitchers in this game, keeping with the Rays’ strategy of giving opponents a different, difficult at-bat almost every time they come to the plate. That strategy was effective on Thursday and failed spectacularly on Friday. That is the (fatal?) flaw in Tampa’s pitcher usage – every time you bring a new pitcher into a game, you take the chance that he’s not going to ‘have it’ that day. If you have a starter who’s found a rhythm for 7 innings, you don’t have to worry about that as much. Remember that the Sox also scored 20 runs against three different Tampa pitchers in a Fenway game in August.

Okay, so, what’s your prediction, Mike? I still believe that the Rays are a better team and I have doubts that Boston’s pitching staff beyond Eovaldi is good enough to keep them down for the entire game. The Rays play better defense, run the bases better, score more runs and allow much fewer. I don’t think there’s much chance of a similar offensive outburst from the Red Sox again on Sunday. The bet here is that Rasmussen can keep the Rays close enough for a few innings and eventually Boston’s shortcomings on defense and in relief will bite them. Tanner Houck was absolutely filthy in relief of Sale on Friday, but he covered five innings and won’t be available for these next two games and as a result I think Boston will have to scramble once Eovaldi has left the game. Look for Tampa to push things on the base paths in this game, too – not a single base stealer was thrown out this season with Eovaldi on the mound. If I found that piece of information, you can be sure that the Rays’ scouting staff are aware of it, too. I’m taking the RAYS to win on the road. I also wouldn’t bet on Boston scoring in droves vs. this staff in two straight games. I’d take the UNDER.

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