2021 ALDS Preview: Boston Red Sox against the Tampa Bay Rays

The MLB postseason is here, which means it’s time for our 2021 ALDS preview featuring the one-seeded Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox from the Wild Card game. We’ll look at how each team got here, as well as pitching matchups and impact players. Finally, we’ll make our predictions.

2021 ALDS preview
(image from Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY Sports)

How They Got Here: Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox looked like the much better team when hosting the New York Yankees in the American League Wild Card game Tuesday night. They beat them 6-2 and it felt like 10-0 with the way Nathan Eovaldi was throwing the ball. The Red Sox are finally in the postseason, though they have been playing meaningful games for a few weeks now since they battled it out with the Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays, and Seattle Mariners for the two wild card spots. Just one game separated four teams – one of the closest and competitive finishes we have ever seen. Boston and New York both sported a 92-70 regular season record.

Boston’s early success carried them to this point. The Red Sox went 55-36 in the first half, but just 37-34 in the second half. They acquired Kyle Schwarber at the trade deadline who slashed .291/.435/.522 while adding 7 homers in 41 games with them. If you include Schwarber’s 25 dingers he hit as a Washington National this year, the Boston Red Sox had seven guys hit 20+ home runs. They are a team that is going to win games because of their offense, but that doesn’t mean their pitching has been bad. Chris Sale is healthy, and he put together impressive numbers in just nine starts this year. He went 5-1 with a 3.16 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 42.2 innings pitched. Eovaldi has been the team’s ace all year. But what everyone has hated the Boston Red Sox for in years prior, their bullpen, it has been improved. Surprise arms like Hirokazu Sawamura, Garrett Whitlock, and Josh Taylor have been reliable all season.

2021 ALDS preview
(image from Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

How They Got Here: Rays

The 2021 Tampa Bay Rays reached the 100-win mark for the first time in franchise history. And they did it without their ace, Tyler Glasnow. Damn, is this team good, or what? Manager Kevin Cash’s unorthodox approach to the game is continuing to work because the entire team is buying in again. He’ll be under a strong microscope this postseason as he makes every move. The Rays fell short last year to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, but there is no doubt this team can get back to there. 

This team wins because of their bullpen, which finished with the lowest ERA in the American League. In the entire MLB, only the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants were better. See what I mean? Cash and his staff play to each the strength of each of their arms by getting the most favorable matchup. As funky as it may seem seeing guys with low name value pitch in high-leverage situations, it works for Cash and the Rays. This is what Tampa is, a very good baseball team and the favorites to win the AL pennant.

Pitching Matchups, Impact Players, & Prediction

Game one will be a left-handed battle between Tampa’s Shane McClanahan and Boston’s Eduardo Rodriguez. The Rays lefty went 10-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 25 starts, and Rodriguez went 13-8 in 31 starts with a 4.74 ERA. Rays rookie Shane Baz will start game two. He’s started just three big league games but has been electric, striking out 18 batters in 13.1 innings of work. If Boston loses game one, I suspect they’ll throw Chris Sale in game to give them the best shot at going back home tied 1-1. If not, he’ll start game three and maybe Garrett Richards or Nick Pivetta will start. Game three starters are yet to be announced (making this 2021 ALDS preview somewhat incomplete), but we may see the Rays go with a bullpen game or two as the series goes on. Boston will try to get Eovaldi back on the mound as soon as possible.

Impact Players for the Rays: SS Wander Franco [rookie] (had a 43-game on-base streak – tied for the longest such streak in MLB history for a player 20-years old or younger), LF Randy Arozarena [rookie] (set the MLB record for most home runs in a single postseason with 10 in 2020), 2B Brandon Lowe (39 HR, 99 RBI, 142 OPS+), DH Nelson Cruz (.265 BA, 32 HR, 86 RBI), RP Andrew Kittredge (1.88 ERA in 57 games), RP Colin McHugh (1.55 ERA in 37 games)

Impact Players for the Red Sox: 3B Rafael Devers (37 doubles, 38 HR, 113 RBI), SS Xander Bogaerts (.295 BA, 23 HR, 79 RBI), DH J.D. Martinez (.286 BA, 28 HR, 99 RBI), RF (31 HR, 96 RBI, .501 SLG)

Evan Kinsey and I are tag-teaming these MLB postseason series previews. Here are each of our picks:

Ryan: Rays in five. I see this as a series where the home team wins every game. It’s two completely different atmospheres. Tropicana Field is a small, indoor stadium that seems louder than it actually is because of the sound bouncing off the roof. That’s something the Red Sox cannot prepare for anywhere else. Fenway Park is the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, and it is going to be cold for this series. That’s something the Rays won’t be prepared for. Still, Tampa Bay won the season series 11-8, so I have to lean towards them. Both offenses are good, and as much as I would like to see the Rays strange pitching staff impress, I do think these are going to be high scoring games.

Evan: Rays in five. I like the Rays in this series, but barely. You can never count out Tampa, but at the same time Boston is red hot. The Red Sox are riding a huge high after embarrassing the Yankees in the Wild Card Game, but is it enough? Nevertheless, I see this series going the distance. When two division rivals meet in the Divisional Series, you’re bound for a good one. Tampa’s pitching against Boston’s prolific offense is going to be a sight to see, with the Rays just knocking off Boston in five. However, if the Red Sox can defeat Shane McClanahan in game 1, this series could be anyone’s. 

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We hope you enjoyed our 2021 ALDS preview! Be on the lookout for the three other Division Series previews that will be on the website shortly.