After getting burned by Homer Bailey at Coors Field on July 4th we bounced back with a nice pick with the Brewers taking down the Orioles at home. While we got back on track momentarily, we now look to get a winning streak going again and we might be able to find more success in an AL East showdown at Tropicana Field.
When you see bettors attacking a Red Sox game, your first inclination is to assume Chris Sale is toeing the rubber. Indeed, he is, but the idea here isn’t to take the easy money and back Boston, who is favored. We certainly can do that, as they’ll probably win, but we instead want to see if there is enough reason to buy Tampa’s value at home, or attack the Total.
Boston is certainly going to be a tough team to bet against, as they just got done with a strong showing in Texas against the Rangers and have ripped off wins in 8 of their last 10 games. Currently in full control of the loaded AL East (4 games ahead of the Yankees), the preseason darlings are slowly starting to look like the World Series threat everyone pegged them as.
Does that mean the Red Sox can’t be tripped up by a rival on the road? Not necessarily. The Rays are a strong 24-18 at Tropicana Field in 2017 and as pedestrian as their 44-42 record looks at first glance, they’re also still very much alive in the race for the division, sitting just five games behind Boston. Maybe they make a move here in game one of this new series, maybe not. Let’s dive into tonight’s matchup to see which way we should bet on this AL rivalry matchup:
Boston Red Sox (-166) @ Tampa Bay Rays (+143) Total: 7.5
Chris Sale (11-3, 2.61 ERA) vs. Jacob Faria (3-0, 2.23 ERA)
Betting against Sale hasn’t been a profitable move in 2017, or ever, really. He has a ridiculous K rate and doesn’t give up a ton of runs and specifically with Boston he’s got a loaded offense that tends to back him pretty well. Right off the bat, targeting the Rays even with a solid line feels a bit too ambitious. Normally I’d want that line to be closer to +200 or higher to feel confident about diving in.
That being said, Boston has fallen short for Sale in the past. It wasn’t too long ago when they went scoreless in a 1-0 loss to the Phillies, after all. I don’t think that happens here, though. Boston faces an impressive young pitcher in Jacob Faria, but the Red Sox hand him by far his toughest assignment in just his 6th ever MLB start. It’s true that Boston could falter on the road against a solid talent, but they have a lot working for them here. As good as Faria has been (strong K rate, keeps games under control), he still serves up some hard contact (10+ fly balls in each of his last three starts) and has coughed up three home runs over his last two runs.
Faria has good swing-and-miss stuff, but he’s seen mild regression lately and could be in for his worst start yet tonight if he’s not careful. The big thing with Faria is we don’t have a large sample size. He’s looked good, but he’s still a young pitcher facing a stacked offense and he also has the pressure of trying to keep pace with one of the best arms in the game in Sale. How he responds will be quite key, but I’m not willing to bet the 23-year old slices up the Bo Sox here.
The Red Sox have been a respectable 24-22 on the road, but their offense has been even more impressive, ranking 10th in road home runs and 7th in batting average away from home. It’s odd to see them post strong numbers outside of Fenway Park, but those aren’t numbers we can ignore. We also can’t bypass their success against right-handed pitching in general. Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley and Mookie Betts all slay righties, while the Red Sox as a whole have the 6th best batting average in the majors against righties.
Power has been the one key missing ingredient for the Red Sox, but with the contact Faria has been giving up lately, it’s not crazy to think they get a little boost here. The park isn’t necessarily indicative of that, but the talent and matchup could trump that factor.
The point here isn’t to pile on Faria. He just might be slightly in over his head and it should lead to a few runs going on the board. And once he exits the game, who knows what happens.
On the other side, Sale isn’t a strong blow up candiate. If Sale isn’t getting slammed and Faria isn’t dealing a gem, we can’t vote for the Rays here with much confidence. The value is there with them being a home dog, but I’m not biting.
Instead, we can look to Sale’s strong work against the Rays in 2017 (2-0, 2.57 ERA), as well as a solid 2.86 road ERA). Sale can absolutely dominate this lineup, which boasts a ton of power, but also strikes out as much as anyone. The Rays aren’t bad against left-handed pitching (13th in power), but they certainly aren’t efficient.
While Sale has the clear edge, his starts tend to push toward the Over. He still gives up some hard contact and I wouldn’t be shocked to see a Ray or two get a hold of a long ball. That might only lead to 2-3 runs for Tampa here, but with Faria possibly struggling a bit, I think that should help push for the Over. Seven of Sale’s last 10 starts have easily topped this 7.5 Total and I think there’s a solid chance we get 8 of 11 here. With an EVEN line, it’s certainly worth a shot.