The Rays outstanding run into and through the AL Tiebreaker and AL Wild Card games now lands them in Boston, to play the AL’s #1 seed, the Red Sox. This will be a rematch of the 2008 ALCS, which the Rays won in 7 games. The Red Sox won 12 out of the 19 regular season meetings. The first two games will be in Boston; Game 1 will be today at 3:07 PM ET, and Game 2 will be Saturday at 5:37, with both games on TBS. Games 3-5 will be Monday, Tuesday (if necessary), and Thursday (if necessary).
Lineup: Red Sox (tough call). The Rays lineup, centered around Evan Longoria, has heated up over the last couple of weeks to help them get to this point. The Red Sox lineup has done that all year long. The weak spot in the Red Sox lineup is probably Will Middlebrooks (.227 BA, 17 HR, 49 RBI), but that’s not because his numbers are bad, but because everyone else in the lineup is that good. Any lineup with David Ortiz and Mike Napoli automatically looks good.
Bench: Rays. The Red Sox have no headliners on the bench, and their best bench player is probably backup catcher David Ross, but backup catchers are rarely used in the postseason due to the high number of off days. Members of the Rays bench include Luke Scott, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce, Kelly Johnson, and Sam Fuld.
Rotation: Red Sox. This was another tough decision. The Rays have two aces, with Matt Moore and David Price pitching games 1 and 2, respectively. The Red Sox, however, have 4 pitchers who would all be number one starters for most other teams, with Jon Lester, who will pitch Game 1, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy.
Bullpen: Rays. Joel Peralta and Jamey Wright anchor the Rays bullpen that has looked impressive in their two elimination games this week. The main arm in the Red Sox bullpen, Junichi Tazawa, should see a lot of work in this series.
Closer: Red Sox. While Fernando Rodney is a good closer for the Rays, Koji Uehara has had a ridiculously good year, while somehow flying under the radar. I’m probably the only person who had him 2nd in my AL Cy Young picks, but here’s why: A 1.09 ERA and a 0.57 WHIP in 73 games, with 74.1 inn. He has 21 saves since getting the closer role at midseason.
Manager: Red Sox. While Joe Maddon is an excellent manager and one of the game’s great personalities, John Farrell will likely win AL Manager of the Year after leading the Red Sox from worst to first in the East in his first year as manager.
Home-field/crowd: Red Sox. The Red Sox have home-field advantage for the series, and the Rays are known for not drawing well. While Tropicana Field will be full, the Rays fan-base cannot touch the intensity and passion of the Red Sox fan-base.
The Red Sox have the advantage in 5 of the 7 criteria in my breakdown, but these teams are more even than that would indicate. In the end, however, the Rays great run will end and the Red Sox will win the series in 4 games.