Red Sox extend lead over Rays in Game 3 of ALDS

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Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury continues to be a pain in the neck for the Rays.

After Clay Buchholz worked out of a bases-loaded jam to keep the Rays off the board in the bottom of the fourth inning, Ellsbury led off the top of the fifth with a liner which deflected off James Loney’s glove and bounced outside the first base bag. Ellsbury legged out a double on the play and eventually moved over to third base on an infield single from Shane Victorino. Yunel Escobar actually made an excellent play on the grounder and tried to throw out Ellsbury, who chose not to slide into third base. He was ruled safe, though replays showed that he may have been out. It ended up being a critical play in the inning, Ellsbury scored on a wild pitch after Alex Cobb was unable to handle a throw from Jose Molina. The Red Sox tacked on one more run on an opposite-field single from David Ortiz.

Ellsbury, an impending free agent, continues to have a heck of a series. He’s 7-for-12 with two doubles, two RBI, two stolen bases, and six runs scored.

The Red Sox lead this one 3-0 as we head to the bottom of the fifth inning. The Rays are running out of time to keep their season alive.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.