Consider this: 365 days ago, who would've thought the Tampa Bay Rays would be one of the last two teams standing in the ALCS? No one? That's what I thought.
Rays manager Joe Maddon deserves major credit for the job he's done with this young team this season. The Rays are a good team and the Red Sox would be wise to not take them lightly.
The Rays are a resilient team, one that has fought back from adversity all year. They have a nice stable of young starters and Grant Balfour is really getting it done in the bullpen. BJ Upton, Carlos Pena, and Evan Longoria are a threat to go deep every at bat.
The Red Sox have some injuries, but they have the experience, team chemistry, and talent to be champions. They have a lot of depth throughout the roster and players who can play multiple positions. Even though Mike Lowell is injured, Mark Kotsay has stepped right in at 1B and Kevin Youkilis has moved across the diamond to 3B seamlessly. The Sox also have the two best post season pitchers in this series, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett, and facing them is a tall task for any team.
Keys to the series:
The Red Sox must pitch Carlos Pena inside and adjust his plate coverage. If they can hold him down, they'll be in great shape to win this series.
The Rays must limit the damage by David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.
The Red Sox need to drive up the pitch count of the young Rays starters and get to their middle relief corp.
The Rays need to run when they can and manufacture runs.
Prediction: Red Sox in 6 games - the Red Sox know how to get it done. Granted, the Rays gave the Red Sox everything they can handle in the regular season, but I believe the Rays are a year away.