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Rays series preview: Our first look at the formidable Yankees

The Rays will face the Yankees ten times in the next 27 games.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
Judge celebrates a homerun as the umpire stands at a distance
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

After splitting a two game series with the Boston Red Sox the Tampa Bay Rays take their aim at the American League East division leader New York Yankees. Currently the 5-7 Rays sit tied for second in the division and tied for the last playoff spot.

The New York Yankees have started the season on a tear winning eight of their first nine before dropping two of their final three against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees are four games ahead of the Rays in the AL East, so they are only a sweep away from being tied if you are very optimistic!

Matchups:

Friday 6:40 PM: Masahiro Tanaka vs Blake Snell
Saturday 2:10 PM: Double Header Tyler Glasnow / Trevor Richards(?)
Sunday 1:10 PM: James Paxton vs Charlie Morton

Tonight the Rays send Blake Snell against a very right handed heavy Yankees lineup. This is one of the worst matchups he’ll see all year. He needs to find the zone, because the Yankees have a propensity to be very disciplined hitters that rarely expand the zone. If he’s having command troubles it will be a rough night.

Masahiro Tanaka has pitched very well against the Rays historically putting up a 3.20 ERA and 3.75 FIP over 114.1 innings. He’s excelled at limiting walks (3.1%) while still putting up big strikeout totals (26.9%). When the Rays have gotten to him it’s been due to homers putting up a 1.6 HR/9. He’s working back to full strength after taking a line drive off the head in spring training. In his first outing he allowed two runs, one earned, in 2.2 innings. It’s hard to imagine him going more than 4 or possibly 5 innings tonight.

Tyler Glasnow and Gerrit Cole are expected to throw Saturday in one of the games. Both teams will likely add a pitcher from their alternate site squad for the double header. The Yankees intend to do a traditional bullpen game for the other start opportunity, while the Rays are likely to use the recently re-called Trevor Richards as their bulk guy or starter, unless the team deems Anthony Banda or Brandon McKay ready from the Alternate Site.

As a reminder that double headers will only be seven innings this season.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Yankees
Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees shakes out his hair during the fourth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Yankee Stadium on August 03, 2020 in the Bronx borough of New York City.
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Gerrit Cole has looked as advertised if you look strictly at the 3-0 record and 2.55 ERA; however his 4.28 FIP and 4.52 xFIP aren’t nearly as sparkling. His 6.0% walk rate is in line with his 5.9% rate last season, but his strikeout is down from 39.9% to 23.9%. His swinging strike rate has fallen from 16.8% to 9.7%. It’s still very early and he’s on the short list for best pitcher in the majors not named Jacob deGrom.

Sunday looks to be a matchup of guys who saw big velocity declines in their first start.

Charlie Morton’s average fastball velocity has moved from 91.61 to 92.92 mph in his last outing so it’s moving in the right direction, but still down from his 94.31 mph he average last season. However James Paxton’s fastball was only at 92.43 mph in his first start, but fell to 90.92 mph in his last start. Last year he averaged 95.18 mph on his fastball so he’s going to need to see a big jump to be the pitcher he’s been when healthy.

Offense

The New York Yankees offense has been hitting the ball well putting up a .257/.335/.481 line and putting up a 131 wRC+ to lead the league averaging 5.41 runs per game.

Aaron Judge has been on a tear to start the season. He’s hit seven homers including a five game streak that ended earlier this week. He’s hitting .302/.362/.837 and putting up a 227 wRC+. You can’t allow him to beat you, but when Giancarlo Stanton (181 wRC+), Giovanny Urshela (194 wRC+), and DJ LeMahieu (197 wRC+) are hitting well it’s hard to get through the lineup unscathed.

Not everybody is hitting though. Gary Sanchez (16 wRC+) and Gleyber Torres (17 wRC+) are struggling through their first dozen games of the season. These results are even worse than the Rays struggling starters Mike Zunino (23 wRC+) and Kevin Kiermaier (38 wRC+).

Other Rays bats have been quiet the last week, but Brandon Lowe continues to confuse me as he’s hitting .302/.375/.605 and putting up a 175 wRC+. Also hitting well are Joey Wendle (170 wRC+), Willy Adames (138 wRC+), and Jose Martinez (136 wRC+).

Austin Meadow’s return has been welcomed, and he should continue to be featured atop the Rays lineup, with Adames hopefully creeping up the batting order as well.

It’s getting late early!

In any normal season 12 games into a season wouldn’t be a reason to worry. 2020 is far from normal though. 12 games is 20% of the proposed 60 game season. Fortunately the playoffs have been expanded to 16 teams putting the Rays in a playoff position despite sitting at 5-7.

Ending the season strong will be more important, but at some point it will be too late to make a real move. This is the Rays first opportunity if they really want a chance to win the division. A split is absolutely necessary to keep any realistic dreams alive, but a 3-1 series win would make Rays fans feel a lot more comfortable.