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2021 MLB Playoffs: 4 bold predictions for Red Sox vs. Rays ALDS series

rays, red sox, randy arozarena, brandon lowe, shane mcclanahan, chris sale, xander bogaerts, jd martinez,

It’s finally here. After the grind of the 162 game season, 19 head-to-head matchup, and an epic Red Sox-Yankees upset in front of the home crowd at Fenway for the Wild Card, the Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox will meet for the American League Division Series, starting on Thursday.

The series is a tale of two underdogs – the Rays lost their two aces, Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, for the year either due to injury or trade, and the Red Sox were seen to have virtually no pitching this year, even losing ace Chris Sale for the vast majority of the season. They blew through all expectations, though, as the Rays finished with the best record in the AL with 100 wins, while the Red Sox emerged in second in the gauntlet of the AL East, where 4 teams finished with 91+ wins.

During the regular season, the Rays won the season series against Boston, 11 games to 8. That all goes out the window in a short series with such high stakes, however, and we shouldn’t be surprised at anything in October baseball. With that being said, here are 4 bold predictions for the Red Sox vs. Rays ALDS series.

4. Kyle Schwarber, Xander Bogaerts rake

Schwarber and Bogaerts are capable of getting hotter than just about any hitter on the planet. Just earlier in the year, Schwarber hit 12 home runs in 10 games, which was part of a stretch where he hit 16 home runs in 18 games, both tying records for home runs within those respective amounts of games. Had he not been injured, Kyle easily could’ve led the NL, or the MLB, for that matter, in dingers. As for Bogaerts, he has been a Rays killer this season. He’s hitting .429 with two home runs against them season, and these two guys will carry the momentum over from their heroics in the Wild Card game (a home run each) into the ALDS.

3. Shane McClanahan deals on the big stage

McClanahan, a Tampa Bay top prospect, has had a great rookie campaign, as he went 10-6 with a 3.43 ERA over 25 starts, good for a 115 ERA+. Though Shane struggled after being brought up to make his MLB debut in the playoffs last season, he came through in a big way once called back up to the big leagues this year, as he went 8 innings over his first two starts, giving up only 2 runs while striking out 10. With one playoff series under his belt (and a scoreless inning in the World Series), he’s a rare case of a rookie already with playoff experience. Under the bright lights, he’ll lead the Rays to 2 wins in this series.

2. Nathan Eovaldi delivers, Chris Sale doesn’t

Nate Eovaldi had a huge Wild Card performance, going 5 and a third inning of 1-run ball against a fearsome Yankees lineup. He’s got a penchant for big playoff performances with a career 1.63 playoff ERA – most notably, his 6 innings of relief in 2018 World Series Game 3 sticks out. Unfortunately, however, he’ll probably only be able to give one full start this series. On the other hand, Chris Sale might be starting Game 1, but his health and performance are certainly in question. In his last start, he couldn’t even last three innings, as he game up two runs on over 60 pitches in 2.1 innings. Though he did strike out 7, this was a super important game, and he couldn’t come through. If the Red Sox want a chance, Sale will have to deliver. It looks as if that may not happen, though.

1. Wander Franco wins series MVP, Rays advance

Franco burst onto the MLB scene with much hype, but little success to start. He barely hit over the Mendoza line and offered little-to-no pop in the early going, but that all changed on July 25th, the start of a whopping 43 game on base streak, which tied Frank Robinson back in 1965 for the longest ever by a player 20 years of age or younger. The trait most special about Franco is that every coach who has come across him raves of his ability to adjust, to keep a level head through even the worst of downs, and not get fazed in the biggest moments. After having an average of exactly .200 through 20 games, he finished his 70-game season hitting .288/.347/.463, and primed to make himself a household name in the playoffs, just like Randy Arozarena did last year.

With X-factors like Franco, Arozarena, Mike Zunino, Brandon Lowe, and so much more depth behind them, the Rays are built for playoff success. They’ll come out on top in the ALDS.

PREDICTION: Rays win series over Red Sox, 3 games to 2.