Best bets for Red Sox-Rays ALDS

By VSiN Staff  (VSiN.com) 

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After advancing past division rival New York, the Boston Red Sox will have to best another one in the Tampa Bay Rays to move on to the American League Championship.  Despite sitting atop the division for nearly the first four months of the season, Boston ultimately finished eight games behind the Rays. 

Can they beat them in the American League Division Series?

Here are our best bets from Adam Burke and Derek Carty.

Boston Red Sox (+ 140) vs. Tampa Bay Rays (-165)

Carty:

Offense

Both of these teams have incredible offenses: The Rays finished fourth in baseball with a 109 wRC+ (a measure of observed offensive quality adjusted for ballpark), while the Red Sox finished sixth at 107.  Both teams have star power and solid depth up and down the lineup.  And both teams profile similar in terms of their handedness advantage.  Two of Boston’s three best pitchers, Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez, are left-handed.  And the same can be said for Tampa’s Shane McClanahan and Ryan Yarbrough.  Both teams are capable of getting very right-handed to maintain the platoon advantage, but both teams see two of their best hitters bat from the left side (Rafael Devers and Kyle Schwarber; Austin Meadows and Brandon Lowe). 

Starting Pitching

Starting pitching is where Boston has its biggest advantage and is what the Red Sox need to lean on if they’re going to win this series.  While Chris Sale isn’t too far removed from an IL stint that cost him the entire 2020 season -- and most of 2021 -- when he’s on he’s one of the five best pitchers in baseball.  He showed little in the way of rust upon return, throwing with more velocity than in 2019 and posting a 3.35 xFIP.

Boston also boasts two pitchers that project among the top 25 in baseball, according to THE BAT projection system, in Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez.  Tanner Houck, should he be allowed a start, projects just inside the top 50.  Meanwhile, the Rays don’t have a single arm inside the top 70.  It’s exciting to see them announce young, electric arms like McClanahan and Shane Baz as their Game 1 and 2 pitchers, but both are young and a bit unpolished.  They have immense upside, both in this series and long-term, but they simply aren’t of the same quality as Boston’s aces.

Bullpen

What Tampa lacks in starting pitching, the Rays do make up for with their bullpen to some extent.  While they don’t have a truly lights-out reliever, they do have a plethora of good ones, a mix of right-handed and left-handed relievers and guys who can provide several innings in the event their starters struggle.

Boston’s bullpen is wholly mediocre, one of the most average in baseball in just about every way.

Speed, defense and baserunning

The Rays are the younger, more exciting team, and so it stands to reason that they would hold a big advantage in the defense and speed department.  These are usually smaller factors, but in a series that seems so well-matched, it’s one of those small edges that helps make them the betting favorite.

Final Report Card

 

Rays

Red Sox

Offense

A

A-

Rotation

C-

A-

Bullpen

B

C

Defense

B+

C

Baserunning

A-

C-

 

Best bet

The clear value appears to be on the Red Sox here.  The Rays are a -165 favorite to win the series, which comes out to a roughly 62% chance of winning.  That’s simply too high for a series that is more evenly matched than that.  Tampa ought to be a favorite, but not by that much.  Even in Game 1, Boston’s + 155 odds give them just a 39% chance to win, but given that they are rolling out the strong starting pitcher, THE BAT X projects them for a 47% chance to win.  That’s a big gap and one that the market will likely shift as game time approaches, so get in early.

Picks: Boston Game 1 ML+ 155 and Boston to Win Series + 140

Burke: The incentives to winning the division for the MLB playoffs are quite significant. The Red Sox already navigated the toughest part of finishing second or third -- and that was winning the one-game wild-card against the hated Yankees. The second is what could have a huge impact on the ALDS against the Rays.

The Red Sox will be without Eovaldi, their top starter, until at least Game 3. It also means that Boston won’t be able to run him out there twice. Eduardo Rodriguez had much better advanced metrics with a 3.32 FIP and a 3.43 xFIP against his 4.74 ERA, so he is a more trusted option than many believe, but the drop-off after Eovaldi and E-Rod is fairly steep.

Tanner Houck, who pitched in relief in the wild-card game, could be a saving grace in this series after posting a 3.52 ERA with a 2.58 FIP in his 69 innings of work. The Red Sox at least found more starting pitcher options as the season went along, including Sale, who made nine starts with a 3.16 ERA and a 3.69 FIP to end the regular season.

The pitching plan for the Rays probably caught some people by surprise. They’ll roll with McClanahan, Baz and Drew Rasmussen and then see where things stand. Tampa Bay will employ a Johnny Wholestaff approach in the playoffs. We all remember how Kevin Cash was lambasted for pulling Blake Snell in Game 6 of last year’s World Series, but that is just what they do: They pull a pitcher a batter early instead of a batter too late. An inning early instead of an inning too late.

It means that we’ll see a steady diet of a Rays bullpen that led the league in innings (703) and fWAR (7.9). The Red Sox are more familiar with the Rays pen than most teams, which could be a hidden factor in this series. Tampa Bay employs a lot of different arm slots and looks from their relievers to confound opposing lineups. The Red Sox will have better scouting reports and more time in the box against those guys.

Something to follow in this series is that the Rays are a chameleon offensively. They blend into whatever the setting is. At home, the Rays had a K + BB percentage of 35.4 percent; on the road, that mark was 32.4 percent. Tampa Bay walked 1.5 percent more often at home than on the road. The Rays are a more patient offense at home where the suppressed run environment allows them to win low-scoring games. On the road, Tampa Bay is much more aggressive offensively.

That could lead to some low-scoring affairs in Games 1, 2 and 5 (if necessary) and some higher-scoring results in Games 3 and 4.

Another hidden matchup advantage for the Rays could be that they are a much better defensive team than the Red Sox. Boston should put more balls in play in this series, as the Rays strike out at a higher rate, but Tampa Bay’s defensive prowess could limit the scoring chances for Boston.

From a park-adjusted standpoint (wRC+ ), Tampa Bay was the better offense. The Rays also scored more runs. They hit more home runs. They stole a lot more bases. They had a lower ERA and FIP, though the park factor did play a role there. Boston actually had the higher fWAR as a pitching staff.

Does all of that justify the Rays series price here? It does seem a little bit high, but the Rays were the top team in the AL and went 33-24 against the other three best teams in the AL East and went 11-5 against Boston after getting swept in the first week of the season.

From a straight series price standpoint, the Red Sox might be the better bet, but I do think the Rays win. Rays + 390 to win 3-1 or Rays + 300 to win 3-2 are better wagers than laying the -165.

Picks: Rays + 390 Exact Series Result 3-1 (.5 unit); Rays + 300 Exact Series Result 3-2 (.5 unit)

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NFL Power Ratings3 sets of numbers from Steve MakinenGO HERE.

CFB Power Ratings3 sets of numbers from Steve MakinenGO HERE.

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