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Rays Series Preview: Damn Yankees

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Rays avoid some top hitter, but will still contend with Gerrit Cole this series.

MLB: AUG 08 Yankees at Rays Game 1 Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees are about to tee off in a matchup of two of the hottest teams in the league. The Yankees have won six in a row while the Rays have won eight of their past nine.

A little over a week ago the Rays took three of four against the Yankees at Tropicana Field. This time the battle takes place at Yankee Stadium with a chance for the Rays to take over the lead in the American League East with a sweep.

The Rays currently sit 2.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and would take the second AL East playoff spot sitting 1.5 games ahead of the Baltimore Orioles.

Matchups

Tuesday 7:00 PM: Blake Snell vs Masahiro Tanaka [ESPN]
Wednesday 7:05 PM: Tyler Glasnow vs Gerrit Cole
Thursday 1:05 PM: TBA vs James Paxton

Blake Snell is coming off his best start of the year. He went 5.0 scoreless innings against the Boston Red Sox. It’s the first time he’s thrown more than 3.0 innings and is a sign that he should now be at or near full strength.

Masahiro Tanaka has been working his back to full strength after taking a line drive off the head during Spring Training 2.0. Two starts ago he held the Rays scoreless over 5.0 innings. Tanaka’s pitch count high for the season has been 66. To find success, the Rays may need to work his pitch count to ensure an early exit. They’ve been very good at this most of the year, but Tanaka was able to make it through 5.0 innings with only 59 pitches last time.

Tyler Glasnow vs Gerrit Cole, Round 3 is scheduled for Wednesday night. The first two rounds have gone to Cole’s team. Cole was cruising through his last start with ten strikeouts, but the Rays drove up his pitch count and scored three runs in the fifth before he exited without completing the inning. Jose Martinez came through with the big two run homer to force him out of the game.

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

Glasnow has had trouble with control to start the year that has caused elevated pitch counts, and his most recent start had clear issues in his delivery’s repeatability, resulting in crooked numbers while not being able to get through five innings. He’s made it through four innings in three of his four starts. The Yankees have a patient lineup that will force him to throw strikes, so he will need to find better command of the fastball to find his first win of the year against Cole.

James Paxton has struggled this year with an ERA over 7. His velocity has been down this year, but during his last two starts the average fastball velocity has rebounded to 93 mph. This is still 2-3 mph lower than he has thrown while fully healthy in the past. He’s been hurt by the longball with four homers allowed this year. The Rays got to him in the seventh when it felt like Brett Boone got too greedy trying to force more out of Paxton when Mike Brosseau and Brandon Lowe hit back to back homers to tie the game.

The Rays have not announced who will start Game 3 of the series, or if Charlie Morton will be ready to return from the Injured List for this game. Wednesday is the first day he would be eligible to return, but per Neil Solondz, the upcoming homestand is more likely when he will return to action.

In this pitching slot previously was Trevor Richards, who went 4.1 IP in a 12-4 loss to the Blue Jays last Friday, although Richards was only responsible for three of those runs. It’s not clear if the Rays will turn to him again, use an opener, activate Morton, or make way for another stretched out arm like Anthony Banda. It will all likely depend on health and who has pitched in the bullpen in the previous games.

Of note: Yesterday the Yankees activated their closer Aroldis Chapman for the first time this year. He pitched the ninth inning against the Red Sox on August 17th.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Offense

The Yankees (5.68 runs per game) and Rays (5.26 runs per game) have been two of the most productive offenses in the league especially when they have gotten to face the Red Sox.

The Yankees are hitting .263/.352/.487 and have put up a 129 wRC+ this season, however they currently are without the services of RF Aaron Judge (189 wRC+), 2B DJ LeMahieu (176 wRC+), and DH Giancarlo Stanton (181 wRC+) whom all are on the Injured List.

The lineup is much less potent without their three biggest bats, but they still boast a solid lineup with their B squad. 1B Luke Voit (158 wRC+), CF Aaron Hicks (140 wRC+), and 3B Giovanny Urshela (135 wRC+) are their biggest remaining threats.

The Yankees offense made most of its noise in the previous series against the Rays from the bench, where they both attempted to dish out criticism from the visiting dugout, but also struggled receiving it back. The result may be a contentious match up this week.

A potential playoff matchup in the Bronx.

The Rays and Yankees are two of the most formidable teams in the league. They both have posted quick starts to the season and are well positioned to make a run for a World Series Championship.

Read More: The Rays have solidified their playoff chances.

Before the playoffs come the Rays will look to close the gap in the AL East and attempt to overtake the lead by the end of the series. A series sweep shouldn’t be expected by either side.

Once the dust on this series settles, there will be one more series remaining between the two clubs in September.