ST. PETERSBURG — Much of the attention at Tropicana Field tonight, understandably, will be focused on the new guy wearing No. 5 for the home team, Wander Franco.
But the Rays, having lost a season-high six straight games, are going to be quite concerned with the team on the other side of the field, a Red Sox squad that played its way into first place in the American League East.
More impressively, the Red Sox are coming off a disappointing 2020 when they finished last in the division at 24-36. But several key players rebounded from poor seasons. The front office, led by former Rays exec Chaim Bloom, made several successful additions. And manager Alex Cora returned to the dugout after a year away.
“It’s typical Red Sox,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Coming into the season we thought very highly of them. They had a couple players last year that did not have their typical years. And by our thoughts and what we appreciate valuing players, (we) were confident that they were going to bounce back and it looks like a lot of them have.
“They’ve swung the bat. They’ve gotten good pitching, in both starter and reliever. It seems like their roster is thicker to where they’re getting contributions not just from eight guys every night. They’re making the most of the opportunity. So it should be set up for a very good series.”
There is some surprise around the game that the Sox have turned a good start into an extended run, their 43-29 record a half-game better than the Rays’ 43-30.
“They’re very good,” Rays infielder Joey Wendle said. “I don’t think that anything they’ve done is a fluke.”
Rays pitcher Ryan Yarbrough, who is expected to follow opener Andrew Kittredge tonight, has a similar view.
“We don’t take them for granted,” he said. “We understand how good a team they are. Even when they got off to the hot start this year, we knew they’re a really good team and kind of continued that success. … And we’re just looking forward to the challenge.”
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