From the catwalks and the cowbells to the Green Monster and Pesky’s Pole, this compelling American League Division Series between the Red Sox and the Rays is back in Boston with anyone’s guess as to which way the momentum will turn.
The Rays clearly had it when they won 5-0 in Game 1. And they clearly had it again early in Game 2 when they withstood a two-run first inning by the Red Sox and bashed Chris Sale with a five-spot that included a grand slam by Jordan Luplow.
But the Red Sox evened the series with a batting barrage that included 20 hits in a 14-6 win. And now we will see what the next chapter brings at what is sure to be an electric Fenway Park on Sunday for Game 3.
What are the starting lineups?
Rays: According to Stats LLC, the first two games of this series were the first time the Rays used the exact same starting lineup since Games 2 and 3 of last year’s World Series. (The same nine players lined up at the same defensive positions in those games as well.) Not surprisingly, manager Kevin Cash's Game 3 lineup includes several changes, with the Red Sox starting a right-hander, Nathan Eovaldi, rather than the two lefties they sent to the mound in Games 1 and 2. So out go the right-handed-hitting Luplow, Manuel Margot and Yandy Díaz. In come the lefty-hitting Ji-Man Choi, Austin Meadows and Joey Wendle. Randy Arozarena is no longer atop the order, but Brandon Lowe thrived in the leadoff spot against right-handers in the second half of the season.
Red Sox: When you consider how well the Sox swung the bats in Game 2, it’s no surprise manager Alex Cora didn't tinker much with that lineup. The one change is behind the plate, where Kevin Plawecki traditionally serves as the batterymate for Eovaldi. As Cora said he would, the skipper is keeping J.D. Martinez in the sixth spot after the star slugger belted four hits, including a three-run homer, in his return from a left ankle sprain. Martinez usually bats fifth, but red-hot left-handed hitter Alex Verdugo will stay there for now against righties.
Who are the starting pitchers?
Rays: The Rays will send starter Drew Rasmussen (4-0, 2.44 ERA) to the mound at Fenway Park. Fittingly enough, it was in Boston where Rasmussen made his transition into Tampa Bay’s rotation on Aug. 12. Since then, Rasmussen has been a model of consistency, putting together a 1.46 ERA in eight starts. Capped by the Rays at five innings because of workload concerns, Rasmussen has thrown four innings in three of his starts and five in the other five, efficiently maxing out his workload each time out. He ran through the gauntlet of tough matchups in September -- Red Sox twice, Blue Jays twice, Astros once -- proving he’s ready for his first postseason start.
Red Sox: With Eovaldi, the Red Sox send the man who has been their best starting pitcher all season to the hill for this one. The righty was last seen throwing 5 1/3 brilliant innings (one run, no walks, eighth strikeouts) to beat the Yankees, 6-2, in the AL Wild Card Game. Eovaldi is earning a reputation as a big-game pitcher. In the postseason, he is 3-1 with a 1.63 ERA in seven appearances, including three starts. Eovaldi is 14-6 with a 3.76 ERA lifetime at Fenway, including the postseason. In four starts against the Rays this season, Eovaldi went 2-1 with a 2.39 ERA and a .160 opponents’ batting average. Given that it is uncertain who will start for the Sox in Game 4, Cora might look for six innings or so from Eovaldi to keep his bullpen as fresh as possible for Monday.
How will the bullpens line up after the starter?
Rays: With Rasmussen on the mound, the Rays can hope for him to cover five innings and maybe let him loose for a little more, given how efficient he’s been, now that it’s the postseason. Then they will mix and match with their top high-leverage arms. Andrew Kittredge and Pete Fairbanks should be plenty rested after not appearing in Games 1 or 2. Tampa Bay would probably rather not burn through all its options with a bullpen game looming Monday.
Red Sox: Garrett Whitlock has yet to pitch in this series, and he was Boston’s best reliever this season, so you can bet Cora will lean on him in Game 3. Ryan Brasier and Hansel Robles have been hot lately and that continued with a scoreless inning for each in Game 2. Look for those two righties to again pitch with the game on the line on Sunday. Don’t be surprised if Eduardo Rodriguez, who was pulled after five outs and 41 pitches in Game 1, comes out of the bullpen for either of the games in Boston. After saying on Saturday that Sale wouldn't be available out of the bullpen, Cora changed his mind, citing Tampa Bay's lefty-heavy lineup in Game 3.
Are there any relievers who are unavailable?
Rays: It’s difficult to imagine right-hander Michael Wacha, a starter working out of the bullpen, bouncing back to pitch Game 3 after throwing 59 pitches as he gave up six runs on nine hits in 2 2/3 innings on Friday night. Maybe Collin McHugh will get another day to rest, too, as he needed 37 pitches to record five outs in Game 2. The question now is whether reliever Matt Wisler (right middle finger inflammation) will be active and/or available.
Red Sox: Rookie Tanner Houck was marvelous in Game 2, firing five innings that included 61 pitches. This likely takes him out of the mix for Sunday. Nick Pivetta threw 73 pitches in Game 1 on Thursday, so it’s iffy that Cora would use him for Game 3.
Any injuries of note?
Rays: Wisler’s status is once again in question due to his troublesome right middle finger. Whether it caused his rough outing in Game 2 or came about afterward, he will be reevaluated before Game 3. If the Rays consider it a serious enough issue, it’s possible they’ll replace Wisler with a fresh arm in the bullpen.
Red Sox: Righty Garrett Richards was taken off the roster before Game 2 with a left hamstring injury. Now that Martinez is back in the mix, the Red Sox don’t have any other significant injuries. Devers is clearly dealing with some discomfort in his right forearm, but it didn’t impact him when he launched a 425-foot homer in Game 2.
Who is hot and who is not?
Rays: Start with Arozarena, who’s 2-for-6 with three walks and a steal of home in this series. Then go to Franco, who is 4-for-9 with a pair of doubles in his first postseason experience. Choi’s first taste of this series was positive, as he went 2-for-3 with a homer in Game 2. On the flip side, Lowe (0-for-8) isn’t off to a great start. Nor are Zunino (1-for-6), Kiermaier (0-for-7) and Margot (0-for-5).
Red Sox: Suddenly, many Boston hitters are hot. Hernández (5-for-6) and Martinez both had monster performances in Game 2. Bogaerts has been tremendous since the postseason started, going 6-for-11 with two homers. Verdugo is also on fire, with six hits in his 13 at-bats in the playoffs. Renfroe is having a hard time finding his stroke. He is 3-for-12 without an extra base-hit in Boston’s three playoff games.
Anything else fans might want to know?
• The Red Sox have won three of the five postseason games these two teams have played at Fenway Park, taking Game 5 of the 2008 AL Championship Series and Games 1 and 2 of the 2013 ALDS. Boston won five of nine matchups at Fenway Park against Tampa Bay this season, although the Rays won the last two series in Boston after being swept there in early April.
• It will be a festive weekend in Boston, with the Marathon taking place for the first time since 2019 on Monday. Game 4 is at 7:07 p.m. ET, so spectators will be able to watch both events if they so choose.
• Boston went 49-32 at home this season while Tampa Bay was 48-33 on the road.