There’s a whole lot of people picking the Rays over the Red Sox in the AL East. I wonder how many of them have taken a gander at Tampa Bay’s Opening Day lineup against the Yankees’ CC Sabathia:
CF Desmond Jennings
RF Ben Zobrist
3B Evan Longoria
DH Jeff Keppinger
SS Sean Rodriguez
2B Elliot Johnson
1B Carlos Pena
C Jose Molina
LF Matt Joyce
Obviously, there are a couple of caveats here, the first one being that B.J. Upton is sidelined. With Upton healthy, Zobrist would be playing second base and Johnson would be on the bench. The other is that manager Joe Maddon has really jumbled the lineup with the lefty on the mound for the Yankees. Keppinger actually makes some sense in the cleanup spot versus a southpaw, while Pena and Joyce will obviously move up in the lineup against right-handers. Luke Scott will also be starting against righties.
All that said… this is one hideous lineup after the top three. The cleanup hitter’s career high for homers in seven. The No. 6 hitter is a 27-year-old with a .190/.247/.318 line in 179 major league at-bats. And Pena and Joyce were flat-out terrible against lefties last season. Pena came in at .133/.260/.333 in 120 at-bats for the Cubs, while Joyce hit .217/.287/.370 despite usually sitting against the tougher ones for the Rays (he was benched in all four of Sabathia’s starts against Tampa Bay last season).
The Rays have some of the league’s best pitching, so they’ll almost certainly hang in the race this year. Still, their lineup against left-handers leaves much to be desired. As I wrote a couple of months ago, they hurt their chances by not bringing in additional right-handed help beyond Keppinger over the winter.
Former Red Sox right-hander Nathan Eovaldi is up for grabs this offseason, and Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe says that as many as nine suitors are interested in bringing the righty aboard. While the Red Sox are eager to retain Eovaldi’s services after his lights-out performance during their recent postseason run, they’ll have to contend with the Brewers, Phillies, Braves, White Sox, Padres, Blue Jays, Giants, and Angels — all of whom are reportedly positioned to offer something for the starter this winter.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the 28-year-old in 2018, however. After losing his 2017 season to Tommy John surgery, he underwent an additional procedure to remove loose bodies from his right elbow in March and didn’t make his first appearance until the end of May. He was flipped for lefty reliever Jalen Beeks just prior to the trade deadline and finished his season with a combined 6-7 record in 21 starts, a 3.81 ERA, 1.6 BB/9, and 8.2 SO/9 through 111 innings.
Despite his numerous health issues over the last few years, Eovaldi raised his stock in October after becoming a major contributor during the Red Sox’ championship run. He contributed two quality starts in the ALDS and ALCS and returned in Games 1-3 of the World Series with three lights-out performances in relief — including a six-inning effort in the 18-inning marathon that was Game 3.
A frontrunner has yet to emerge for the righty this offseason, but Cafardo points out that the nine teams listed so far might just be the tip of the iceberg. Still, he won’t be the most sought-after starter on the market, as former Diamondbacks southpaw Patrick Corbin is expected to command an even bigger payday following his career-best 6.0-fWAR performance in 2018.