MLB Regular Season

Matchup: Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox

Date/Time: September 21, 7:07 p.m. ET

Pitching Matchup: Chris Archer (12-12, 2.95) vs. Eduardo Rodriguez (9-6, 3.94)

MLB Betting Odds From BetDSI Sportsbook

Moneyline: Tampa Bay -120

Total: 8.5

While the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees battle it out for first place in the AL East, the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox fight to stay out of the division basement. The Rays are a road favorite for this series opener at Fenway Park with ace Chris Archer on the mound. The Red Sox will counter with rookie Eduardo Rodriguez, who will be limited to 10-14 innings the rest of the way. Rodriguez, fortunate to be out of a Baltimore Orioles organization that has mishandled several young pitchers, has reached a new career high innings with 158 between Triple-A and the bigs. Archer and the Rays are favored in this Monday night affair.

Rookie manager Kevin Cash knew about the grind as a player, but he’s learning about the grind as a manager. The Rays walked off a winner on Sunday to improved to 8-11 in the month of September, but this season has been a struggle. Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly missed most of it and Jake Odorizzi also spent a period of time on the DL. The bullpen has worked a lot of innings and the platoon-heavy Rays have struggled against righties. The Red Sox got off to a slow start and have turned things around to go 26-19 since the start of August, but it’s definitely too little, too late. The Red Sox had some horrible sequencing luck early in the season and that was way too much to overcome.

Chris Archer’s development into a legitimate ace has probably been the best development for the Rays this season. Archer talked in Spring Training about how great it was to be able to throw bullpens to the manager. Cash, who was the bullpen coach for the Indians last season, is one of the youngest managers in baseball and his perspective has certainly had an impact on the Rays pitching staff. Archer has a 2.95/2.69/2.84 pitcher slash and has been worth 5.5 wins above replacement player per Fangraphs. He has a shot at 250 strikeouts for the season in this start if he can ring up seven Red Sox. He already owns the single-season strikeouts and K/9 records for the Rays based on this season.

Archer has gone slider-heavy this season and it has paid off in a big way. His best pitch is 26.9 runs above average per PITCHf/x. Add that to a quality fastball with good velocity and you have the makings of a pitcher that will miss a lot of bats and have a ton of success. Archer is seventh in WAR, third in K%, fourth in K%-BB%, fifth in FIP, and sixth in SIERA among qualified starting pitchers. His name is with guys like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, Chris Sale, and Dallas Keuchel in all of those categories. That’s some elite company to be sure.

Eduardo Rodriguez has given the Red Sox a lot to think about. This offseason will be a very interesting one with Dave Dombrowski in the front office. Ben Cherington and the Red Sox parted ways and Dombrowski was brought in a little over a month ago. He will handpick a GM and have a major say in the day-to-day operations of the team. Rodriguez will be a part of that mix. The 22-year-old made eight starts in Triple-A and then got the call to the big leagues. After three dominant starts to begin his career with a 0.44 ERA and a .116/.208/.174 slash against, things evened out in a hurry with a start against the Toronto Blue Jays in which he allowed nine runs.

Rodriguez is finishing the season strong despite the new career high in innings and the Red Sox have to be excited about that. Over his last five starts, Rodriguez has allowed just six earned runs. There are some underlying problems, however. His line drive rate in that span is 29 percent, so the command is starting to waver a little bit, even if it doesn’t show up in his home run stats. That’s certainly a concern as the Rays bring the seventh-best offense in wOBA against left-handers to Fenway Park for this one.

MLB Expert Pick: Tampa Bay Rays

I believe that the Rodriguez and the Red Sox have a bright future together, but the Chris Archer that the Rays have in the present is a dominant pitcher and he’s committed to ending the season on a high note. Rodriguez has been fortunate with stranding runners over his last few starts and the Rays present a tough challenge. It’s hard to gauge the motivation for both of these teams entering this series, but Archer embraces his role of leading by example and he should get some offensive support.