The Boston Red Sox finally return to the field this afternoon when they take on the Tampa Bay Rays in the opening game of their American League Divisional Series at Fenway Park. (TV/Radio/Twitter: TBS, WEEI-FM, @RedSox_101)
Boston won the regular season series against Tampa going 12-7.
Jon Lester toes the rubber for the Red Sox while Matt Moore gets the call for the Rays. Lester bounced back from a mediocre 2012 to post a 15-8 record this year with an ERA of 3.75. Moore, in his second full season, is a 17-game winner with an ERA of 3.29.
Weather should not be a factor in this late afternoon start. What advantage both starters might have had with the long October shadows that come with a 3:07 first pitch will be negated by overcast skies and a slight chance of showers.
Coming in off two straight do-or-die games, the Rays should be the fresher team over the Red Sox, who have not played since Sunday. Tampa defeated Texas in Arlington in a tiebreaker game Monday night and Cleveland Wednesday in the AL Wild Card game.
The Rays need Evan Longoria to continue to have success against Lester to set the table and settle down whatever nerves they have. Longoria has homered four times off Lester in 63 career at-bats with 10 RBI.
They also need Moore pitch deep into the game to take as much stress as possible off the bullpen, heavily taxed late in the season.
Surprisingly, David Ortiz has a career batting average of .462 against the lefty Moore in 13 at bats. As a team, the Red Sox have struggled against him, hitting a paltry .157.
Boston needs to avoid falling into the trap that teams that go a few days between games in the playoffs find. Not seeing full-speed action in four days—that scrimmage Wednesday does not count—Sox hitters have to shake the cobwebs off their bats early and not let Moore get comfortable on the mound.
Today will also be a test for John Farrell.
The pitching coach under Terry Francona in the team’s glory years, Game 1 marks Farrell’s postseason managing debut. Across the way, Farrell faces one of the shrewdest managers in the business in Joe Maddon.
Farrell has pressed all the right buttons in turning the Red Sox around, but he cannot labor too long in making pitching changes or be too aggressive trying to grind out runs.
After a magical summer, the Red Sox return to the playoffs for the first time since being swept by the Los Angeles Angels in 2009. If all goes well, they can earn their first postseason win since beating these same Rays in Game 6 of the 2008 AL Championship Series.
*All statistics are courtesy of Baseball Reference
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