For Sox, TB pitchers are Death Rays

September, 11, 2011
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The American League team you would least want to face in a short series in October?

How about the Tampa Bay Rays, and they're still facing long odds of even making the tournament?

The Rays have the best starting pitching in the American League with a collective 3.52 ERA, nearly three full runs below John Lackey's 6.30. And while the Red Sox and Yankees are scrambling to find three starters suitable for a postseason rotation, Joe Maddon has four starters he can run out with confidence -- David Price, James Shields, Wade Davis and Jeremy Hellickson -- and a fifth, Jeff Niemann, who would probably make the cut for some other clubs. And they're all healthy.

The Rays have done a terrific job shutting down the Boston offense this season, holding the Sox to three or fewer runs in eight of their 13 meetings. The Sox are batting a collective .174 against the Rays, 105 percentage points below their season average of .279. The Sox have a .266 on-base percentage, .344 slugging percentage and .610 OPS against the Rays, numbers that across the board are their worst against any AL team and well below their .349/.460/.809 averages.

Only two Sox hitters have had any success against the Rays this season. Dustin Pedroia is batting .289 (15-for-52), while Jacoby Ellsbury has six home runs against the Rays, including Saturday night's game-tying blast in the ninth inning. Nine Sox players are hitting below .200 against the Rays, and a 10th, the injured Kevin Youkilis, is right at the Mendoza Line (.200). Catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek are batting a collective .091 (4-for-44) against the Rays, and that includes Saltalamacchia's ninth-inning home run that preceded Ellsbury's.

Carl Crawford is batting .143 against his old team and has scored just one run while driving in none in 10 games. The left-handed sluggers, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz, are batting a combined .160 (13-for-81) against the Rays, and Gonzalez has the only home runs, two, even though Ortiz has 39 career home runs against the Rays, his second-highest total against any opponent (he's hit 42 against Toronto).

It doesn't promise to get any easier Sunday, as the Sox face James Shields, who leads the majors with 11 complete games and four shutouts, the first pitcher to hit those numbers in the same season since Pedro Martinez, when he was in Montreal in 1997. The Sox are just 12-24 in the Trop in their last 36 games, dating back to Sept. 23, 2007.

Here's the most impressive thing about the Rays' starting staff: All 144 games this season have been started by pitchers they drafted and developed.

Gordon Edes

ESPN Staff Writer



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