Rays see Red Sox as ‘a good matchup’ but would have welcomed Yankees, too

By Marc Topkin

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Rays took the prudent but click-reducing path Wednesday by saying that facing the Red Sox in the American League Division Series that starts Thursday won’t be much different to them than if the Yankees had won Tuesday’s wild-card game.

“I thought we played (the Red Sox) pretty well this year (going 11-8), so I think for us it’s a good matchup,” reliever Josh Fleming said. “But I also think the Yankees (against whom they also were 11-8) would have been a good matchup, too.

“I think we played both teams pretty well this year. So to me, it didn’t matter who we were facing. I think whoever it was, we played very well this year.”

The Rays obviously feel they know the AL East rival Red Sox well, especially having played 13 times in a 37-game span. But their last game was Sept. 8, so there are some things that have changed, such as how Boston is using its bullpen.

“They’ve made some improvements and some adjustments to the roster,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Certainly from the (trade) deadline getting (lefty reliever Austin) Davis and, obviously, (lefty slugger) Kyle Schwarber. Then you look at a guy like Tanner Houck that is back pitching in different roles, whether it’s starter or reliever. He is pretty tough, and (Ryan) Brasier is a guy they’ve leaned on in their bullpen pretty heavily.

“The bullpen has shifted a little bit, rightfully so, because it seems like they’re all talented whenever they’re called upon.”

A Wednesday meeting with the team of three scouts who followed the Sox for much of the last month was likely to yield some additional insights for the Rays.

“Watching a team for a month inside out, there’s probably a perspective that we can really value,” Cash said.

Veteran centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said the Sox present multiple challenges, though the status of designated hitter J.D. Martinez, who has an ankle issue, could thin their attack if he is unavailable.

“You’ve got to shut down that offense from top to bottom,” Kiermaier said. “They are dangerous in many, many ways, and they don’t have a weak spot. They truly don’t. Our pitchers are definitely going to have their work cut out for them.

“On the flip side, too, they’ve got a ton of quality arms over there. Some guys who can, you know, just go up and down the batting lineup and get out after out.”

Citing the competitiveness of several of the games, including the Rays’ dramatic comeback from a six-run deficit that led to an 11-10, 10-inning win on Sept. 6 that they considered their biggest of the season, second baseman Brandon Lowe said he expects a spirited series.

But he doesn’t think the Rays need do anything different.

“Do what we’ve been doing all year,” Lowe said. “Don’t change the game. Don’t put any added pressure. Understand that we were the best team in the American League. We were up there for a reason. Play our baseball, and we’ll have a lot of fun this year.”

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