AL East Battle: Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays Major League Baseball Handicapping

The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays close out a three-game series between American League East rivals Thursday night at Tropicana Field

Boston Red Sox at Tampa Bay Rays

The Tampa Bay Rays have won 25 of their last 30 games versus division opponents with SP David Price on the hill

Boston received a dominant pitching performance from starting pitcher Josh Beckett in last night’s 3-0 road victory over Tampa Bay and enters Thursday’s series finale with a 1 1/2-game lead over New York.  “That’s about as good as you can pitch,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona about Beckett’s performance.  “He didn’t walk anybody.  That was fun to watch.”  The Red Sox own the best record in the American League and have won 26 of their last 35 tilts.  The club has been ultra-impressive in June, leading the Majors with a 9-2 mark.  Boston is 23-6 when playing against a team with a winning record this season and 24-22 on artificial turf over the last three years.

Red Sox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz earned a 5-1 win in his last outing, snapping a career-long streak of four no-decisions.  The right-hander is 5-3 with a 3.59 ERA in 13 starts this season and has not walked more than two batters in any of his last nine starts since April 26 at Baltimore, the longest such stretch of his career.  Buchholz will be making his first start against the Rays in 2011 after going 1-1 with a 0.98 ERA in three outings last year.  His career 1.81 ERA versus Tampa Bay is his lowest versus any Major League team he has faced.

Tampa Bay finds itself 4 1/2 games back in the American League East race and has alternated wins and losses in its last 10 home contests.  “That’s why I think this race is going back and forth,” Rays manager Joe Maddon stated.  “I don’t see one team running away and hiding at any point.”  The Rays will quickly need to solve their problems against the top teams in the league, posting a 12-23 mark against clubs over .500, while going 24-9 versus losing clubs.  Tampa Bay still leads the season series 3-1 over Boston and has proven victorious in 10 of the last 14 meetings overall.  Over the last three years, Maddon’s squad has registered a 97-72 record against division opponents.

Rays starting pitcher David Price is 7-5 with a 3.51 ERA in 14 starts this season and is coming off a no-decision effort last time out.  He allowed four runs and eight hits over six frames in a 7-5 road win over the Orioles.  The left-hander enters with an even 3-3 mark and 3.19 ERA in seven home outings, surrendering just two home runs in 48 frames.  In six career starts versus the Red Sox, Price has tallied a winning 4-2 record and 3.18 ERA, allowing opponents to hit for just a .237 average.  Left-handed batters are hitting just .163 against him this season.

Bettors will likely back the Rays due to their 25-5 record versus the American League East, while the Red Sox are 2-5 in Buchholz’s last seven outings against the division

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