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Series Preview: Rays vs Yankees

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Houston Astros v. New York Yankees Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays head off to New York as the season comes to a close.

The Rays have clinched the number one seed in the American League and really have nothing left to play for this weekend. Yet still....hard to be a Rays fan and not have visions of our team making the Yankee’s post season mission more difficult.

The American League Wild Card has come down to the wire. The New York Yankees were able to give themselves some room for error with a 2.0 game lead with three games remaining by winning two out of three against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Boston Red Sox have fallen into a tie for the second wild card with the Seattle Mariners. The Blue Jays are lurking 1.0 game behind the last playoff spot.

Matchups:

Friday 7:05 PM: Shane McClanahan vs Nestor Cortes Jr.
Saturday 1:05 PM: Shane Baz vs Jordan Montgomery
Sunday 3:05 PM: Michael Wacha vs TBA

On the Rays side I am surprised the Rays have announced that they plan to start Shane McClanahan and Shane Baz in this series. This is especially the case with Baz; the Yankees haven’t seen him yet and with a potential playoff matchup coming next week why not let him remain a mystery to them? I’ve had the feeling that Brent Honeywell Jr. would be called up this weekend to make one of these starts or pick up a bulk inning role but here we are on Friday and no move has been made.

On the Yankees side Sunday is listed as TBA because it’s unknown if it will matter at this point. Two New York wins to start the series would make that game meaningless for both teams. The Yankees have the good fortune of playing a team like the Rays who don’t have anything to play for, much like the situation the Rays faced in Game 162 versus the Yankees. Their top bullpen arms aren’t going to be used much if at all.

Nestor Cortes Jr. has been a key cog to the Yankees success this year. Cortes Jr. was a 36th round draft pick by the Yankees in the 2013 draft. He had spent some MLB time split between the Orioles, Mariners, and Yankees totaling 79.0 innings. This year he’s put up a 2.85 ERA/3.77 FIP/4.18 xFIP over 88.1 innings. He’s been a stable innings eater when the Yankees really needed it while providing quality. In July Cortes Jr. held the Rays to one run in 5.0 innings. Cortes Jr. throws a 90.7 mph four-seam fastball, 85.3 mph cutter, 77.4 mph slider, and 82.9 mph changeup. He has yet to throw a changuep to a left handed batter in 2021.

Jordan Montgomery has been the solid number two behind Gerrit Cole. He’s put up a 3.49 ERA/3.42 FIP/3.84 xFIP. He’s rarely asked to pick up more than five innings, but provides excellent quality. He’s faced the Rays five times in 2021. Two times he’s held the Rays to one run or fewer. In the other three starts the Rays put at least three runs on the board. Montgomery throws a diverse five pitch mix that includes a 82.5 mph changeup, 80.0 mph curveball, 92.4 mph sinker, 92.6 mph four-seam fastball, and 87.3 mph cutter. He doesn’t throw any single pitch more than 25% or less than 15% of the time.

The Yankees offense has been lackluster.

The Yankees offense was expected to be one of the highest scoring in the league. Instead they have 705 runs and scored 4.43 runs per game which both rank 18th in the majors. The Rays have outscored them by 136 runs and 0.86 runs per game while leading the majors in both categories.

The Yankees have hit .239/.324/.410 and put up a 103 wRC+. They have hit 221 homers (sixth), but haven’t really hit for a lot power with a .171 ISO (11th). Their offense hasn’t been bad, but they’ve ran into a lot of outs on the bases and hit into many double plays. Their -15.2 BaseRuns ranks second worst in the majors.

Aaron Judge is the offensive leader. He’s hit .288/.374/.549 and put up a 150 wRC+. He leads the team with 39 homers.

Giancarlo Stanton has been on fire lately putting up a .275/.357/.521 line and 139 wRC+. He’s up to 35 homers.

The problem is the lineup has not been deep once you get past the two big bats.

Anthony Rizzo (112 wRC+) has been a quality addition.

Gary Sanchez (102 wRC+), DJ LeMahieu (100 wRC+), Joey Gallo (98 wRC+), Gio Urshela (96 wRC+), Brett Gardner (96 wRC+), and Gleyber Torres (96 wRC+) have had solid but unspectacular seasons at the plate. More was expected coming into the year from everybody except Gardner.

The offense will have to do work.

For the Rays to knock the Yankees out of the playoffs this weekend they will likely need to rely on their offense. I expect sparse use of any arms that are expected to pitch in big spots in the playoffs.

It’s nice to be able to relax while other teams are playing for their postseason lives, but part of me will be enjoying the chaos that could happen this weekend. An ideal outcome would be baseball on Monday ahead of the American League Wild Card game on Tuesday night.