Originally posted on The Outside Corner  |  Last updated 10/4/13
The Rays are riding a wave of momentum, winning three straight must-win games (including game 162 in Toronto) to set themselves up for a matchup with their division rival, the Boston Red Sox. Boston won the season series 12-7, but will the Rays be able to translate their momentum into an ALCS berth? Game 1: Friday, 10/4 in Boston, 3:07 PM. Matt Moore vs Jon Lester Game 2: Saturday, 10/5 in Boston, 5:37 PM. David Price vs John Lackey Game 3: Monday, 10/7 in Tampa Bay, TBA. Clay Buchholz vs Alex Cobb Game 4 (if necessary): Tuesday, 10/8 in Tampa Bay, TBA. Jake Peavy vs Jeremy Hellickson Game 5 (if necessary): Thursday, 10/10 in Boston, TBA. Matt Moore vs Jon Lester Starting Pitching: The rotation has been the Rays' strength in recent years, but this year? Not so much. Hellickson's listed as the Game 4 starter, but he's been terrible this year, pitching to a 5.17 ERA in 174 innings. Chris Archer, also on the playoff roster, would be a much better option in the fourth spot in Tampa Bay's rotation, but he's struggled at times this month. But let's focus on the top three of Moore, Price, and Cobb. You know all you need to know about Price, who pitched the Rays past the Rangers in Texas on Monday and is the reigning AL Cy Young winner. Cobb came into the national consciousness on Wednesday, when he dominated a solid Indians lineup in the Wild Card game. Finally, there's Moore, who has struggled at times this year despite a gaudy 17-4 record and 3.29 ERA. Moore struck out nearly a batter per inning this year, but his command has faltered at times as his 20 walks in 29 September innings will attest to. You'd think that a patient, veteran club like Boston could wear him out, but in two starts against the Red Sox this year, Moore has walked just three hitters in 14 innings - not exactly an issue. Boston isn't using two of its more command-challenged starters against the Rays, as both Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster have been shuffled off to the bullpen for this series. That leaves us with the foursome above, and it's a pretty good quartet. The workmanlike Lester is the best of the bunch, a pitcher who gets ahead of hitters early and gets his share of ground balls. Lester had three quality starts in four tries against Tampa Bay this year, with the one outlier being a mauling in mid-June where he walked seven hitters. Lackey's had a good year with the Sox, being stingy with the free passes to help control his very real issue with home runs. After missing all of the 2012 season, he's struggled in September, potentially a sign that he's running out of juice. Buchholz has made just four starts in the second half, but has picked up right where he left off in June, though he's not striking out hitters by the bucket load anymore. Finally, there's Peavy, the midseason acquisition from the White Sox. The veteran has pitched better since changing his Sox from White to Red, but has had a rough go of it in his last four starts of the year, including a start in Tampa Bay. Bullpen: Boston's bullpen is gross, and it's led by a pair of Japanese imports: Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa. Uehara has been positively disgusting in the ninth inning, striking out 101 and walking nine in 74 2/3 innings. That's right - walking NINE. His WHIP for the season was 0.57. It's just a little difficult to do anything against him if the Red Sox go into the ninth with a lead. Tazawa has been a solid bridge, striking out a batter per inning and keeping his walks down. However, he's allowed nine home runs, and those long ball tendencies could doom him if he makes a bad pitch to any lefties, who are slugging .496 against him this year. Boston is only carrying three true relievers along with those two: a LOOGY who isn't a LOOGY in Craig Breslow, somewhat erratic rookie Brandon Workman, and LOOGY Franklin Morales. Both Morales and Workman can go multiple innings if the need be, but the Red Sox are probably hoping that they aren't needed for that purpose. I broke down Tampa Bay's bullpen on Wednesday before their Wild Card game with the Indians, and nothing has really changed. However, I did forget to mention Jake McGee, a ridiculously hard thrower who struck out 75 in 62 2/3 this year. The Rays bullpen kept the Indians in check on Wednesday, and they didn't even need to use bullpen ace Alex Torres. Lineup:  Again, I'm not going to break down Tampa Bay's lineup all that much, but on Wednesday, they started David DeJesus in left and Desmond Jennings in center to a decent bit of success against the Indians. As you saw in Cleveland, their lineup can hurt you up and down, and now that it's October, Delmon Young has been awakened from his season-long slumber to smash taters. Joe Maddon always gets creative with his lineups, but his Game 1 lineup will be identical to that which he used on Wednesday. Calling the Red Sox offense "potent" is probably an understatement. You know what you're getting out of this lineup: speed and doubles power at the top with Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino, and Dustin Pedroia, thunder in the middle with David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, and a little bit of power at the back-end with Jonny Gomes, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Stephen Drew, and Will Middlebrooks. Five of Boston's starters have walk rates north of 10%, and the top of their lineup doesn't strike out much at all. That's a very good combination to have, especially when you consider the depth of their bench, which we'll get to in a minute. Bench: Boston's bench is simple, yet effective. You have a solid backup catcher in David Ross, a defensive outfield sub in Quintin Berry, a lefty masher in Daniel Nava, a righty masher in Mike Carp, and a versatile infielder in rookie Xander Bogaerts. It's very by the book, yet it's very effective. Nava and Carp will have no difficulties finding at bats, and they can be lethal coming off the bench (as the Rays can definitely attest to). The Rays use a different strategy from the Red Sox and focus on versatility. Sean Rodriguez can play everywhere, while Kelly Johnson can (to an extent) as well. Starting second baseman Ben Zobrist is another guy who can hold his own anywhere on the diamond, and that lets Maddon have some fun. Tampa Bay's most conventional bench players are pinch runner/defensive sub Sam Fuld, righty smasher Matt Joyce, and the other half of the Jose Lobaton/Jose Molina catching duo. It's not a spectacular bunch, but they do what they need to do. Overall: The Red Sox have shown time and time again this season that they're one of the most complete teams in baseball. They're tough to beat, but the Rays have done it seven times this year. If the Rays can get this to a Game 5, they can start Price on regular rest, which could put them in a favorable position at Fenway. But really, if the Rays can't take either Game 1 or Game 3, they're going to be in trouble if Hellickson does indeed start Game 4 - if it even gets that far. [follow]

This article first appeared on The Outside Corner and was syndicated with permission.

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