AL East Wild Card Showdown: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox (86-63) host the Tampa Bay Rays for Game 2 of a critical 4-game series between the 2nd and 3rd place teams in the AL East, with the American League Wild Card at stake. After winning Game 1 of the series last night by a score of 9-2, Tampa Bay is on a quest to even the Wild Card race if they can secure a rare road sweep against the Red Sox, something that could not be so far out of the question the way Boston has been playing in the past few weeks. With just a 3-game lead in the Wild Card standings, and slumping to a 2-8 record in their last 10 games, the Red Sox have hit desperation time with just 13 games remaining, while Tampa Bay is hot right now winning 7 of their last 10 games and 9 of 12, while sporting one of the most stable and consistent pitching rotations in the league. The Rays have also owned Boston in the season series as of late, winning 6 games in a row and should be more than confident heading into Game two behind staff ace James Shields.

Tonight’s pitching match-up is certainly one of the best duels we’ve seen in a while, especially considering how much is on the line. As Boston’s Josh Beckett (12-5, 2.49 ERA) takes on Tampa Bay’s James Shields (15-10, 2.70 ERA), both pitchers knowing just how much is at stake in this game and the series as a whole, and should be on their best form for the game this evening. Beckett makes his first start since September 5th after missing one rotation due to a sprained ankle, and certainly the Red Sox are happy to have him back in business as the rest of the Boston rotation has been flailing lately. Beckett has not allowed a run over his past 21 innings versus Tampa Bay, and is 1-0 with just 2 hits allowed in 17 innings of work against the Rays this year. James Shields on the other hand experienced his last loss on the year at Fenway Park, a 3-1 win for the Red Sox, and has traditionally fared poorly in Boston going 1-8 with a 6.99 ERA in 9 career appearances there. However, he comes in having shutdown Boston at home giving up just 1 run in 8 1/3 innings of work. He’ll certainly hope to bring some of that winning mojo back to Boston to try and repair his record there.

Betting Lines for Boston vs. Tampa Bay:

Boston is the favorite at home tonight despite their recent woes, and gets -140 odds on the money line at Sportsbetting sportsbook (read the review of Sportsbetting.ag). With James Shields’ poor performance figures against Boston at Fenway, the Rays are +120 underdogs heading into tonight’s match-up. Tampa Bay gets 1.5 runs at -170 odds, while Boston gives up 1.5 runs at +150 price, indicating that this match-up should be a close one either way with two quality pitchers on the mound and so much at stake in this contest. The over/under for the game stands at 7.5 runs, -105 odds for under, -115 odds for over.

Our Pick to Win:

Though Boston has typically owned James Shields when he comes to Fenway, these are two teams headed in much difference directions right now, and if ever there is to be a change in history now may be the time for Shields and the Rays. A fresh Josh Beckett certainly makes this match-up likely to be a low-scoring affair regardless of Shields’ performance, but based on Shields’ overall dominance of the league lately (3 runs allowed in last 34 1/3 innings, 4-0 in last 4 starts), I’m backing Tampa Bay to win tonight 4-3.

Players to Watch, Boston:

David Ortiz, DH – Ortiz is batting .302 (13-for-43) with 8 doubles and 3 homers and 13 RBIs lifetime against Shields. He’s hitting .341 in September as well, so look for Ortiz’ bat to contribute this evening at Fenway.

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B – Gonzalez has been a little off pace in the last 7 days, hitting just .211, but he’s .357 lifetime against Shields (5-for-14), and still hitting .308 for the month. Watch out for A-Gonzo to contribute tonight at home.
Players to Watch, Tampa Bay:

B.J. Upton, CF – Upton is 14-for-27 with 3 home runs and 9 RBIs in the past 6 games against Boston. He’s hitting .354 in September, .444 over the past 7 days, but will look to improve against Beckett who he’s 6-for-28 (.214) lifetime against.

Evan Longoria, 3B – He’s had good success against Beckett lifetime, posting a .286 average (10-for-35), and has scored a run in each of the last 4 games against Boston with 3 multi-hit games over that span.

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