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Rays vs Yankees Series Preview: Who hunts the Headhunters?

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New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Rays series against the Texas Rangers didn’t go as planned. The offense found trouble scoring runs in picking up only one win in the four game set.

The New York Yankees have had an equally disappointing start to the season after losing their second series of the season to the Toronto Blue Jays while also losing their first series to the Rays.

Tensions remain high between the two teams that faced off in the American League Division Series last year, particularly after Aroldis Chapman sent a 100+ mph fastball over the head of Mike Brosseau emotions have remained high. You know the story.

In the series at Tropicana Field last weekend Yankees pitchers hit Joey Wendle in the helmet while also hitting Mike Zunino and Austin Meadows in the upper body.

If MLB doesn’t take control of the situation things could get very ugly. So far the Rays haven’t retaliated except on the scoreboard, but that will only last so long.

Matchups:

Friday 7:05 PM: Michael Wacha vs Nick Nelson (bullpen day)
Saturday 1:05 PM: Tyler Glasnow vs Jordan Montgomery
Sunday 1:05 PM: Ryan Yarbrough vs Gerrit Cole

Nick Nelson is scheduled to make his first career start as an opener. He’s been used mostly as a multiple inning reliever throwing 24.2 innings in 14 career outings. He has a career 5.47 ERA/4.76 FIP/3.97 xFIP. Nelson primarily is a fastball/changeup pitcher with an occasional slider. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and his changeup resides in the upper 80s. It is unknown who will pitch the bulk of the innings tonight as this is the spot in the rotation vacated by Domingo German after being optioned after his most recent start last weekend against the Rays.

Jordan Montgomery doesn’t have the name recognition of the other starters but he might be the second best starter behind Gerrit Cole. He has a career 4.10 ERA/4.07 FIP/4.28 xFIP over 241.2 innings. This year he has a 3.27 ERA/4.59 FIP/3.80 xFIP. In his last start the Rays were able to put up four runs in 5.0 innings thanks to two homers. Montgomery has a mixed bag of four pitches with a sinker, cutter, changeup, and curveball that he uses evenly. He will occasionally throw a 4-seam fastball up in the zone. The changeup has been the pitch that has been hit this year. He throws it almost exclusively to right handed batters.

Gerrit Cole is one of the best pitchers in the game. This year has been no exception as he has posted a 1.47 ERA/1.17 FIP/2.36 xFIP in 18.1 innings. Cole’s primary weapon in a four seam fastball that sits in the upper 90s and has averaged 97.0 mph this season. His primary breaking ball of choice is a slider that sits in the upper 80s. He will throw occasional curveballs and changeups to round out his repertoire.

The Yankees bullpen has been one of the best in the league posting a 2.04 ERA/2.43 FIP/3.13 xFIP. Chapman has been otherworldly with a 0.00 ERA/-1.62 FIP/-1.18 xFIP while striking out 11 of the 15 batters he’s faced. Jonathan Loaisiga, Darren O’Day, Chad Green, and Luis Cessa have helped out late in games while Zack Britton has been on the Injured List.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Yankees offense has gotten off to a slow start.

The Yankees offense has gotten off to a very similar start as the Rays. They have put up a .231/.316/.371 line and 97 wRC+ compared to the .222/.306/.373 line and 97 wRC+ the Rays have put up.

Of course not all Yankee hitters have gotten off to a slow start. Aaron Judge leads the offense with four homers and a .308/.386/.615 line and 178 wRC+.

Judge has been joined by DJ LeMahieu (.295/.392/.455, 142 wRC+) and Gary Sanchez (.265/.375/.471, 141 wRC+) as everyday players off to good starts.

Giancarlo Stanton (.175/.233/.275, 43 wRC+) and Jay Bruce (.118/.231/.235, 37 wRC+) have gotten off to very slow starts.

Let’s hope everybody stays healthy.

The emotions are at a tipping point and I have this feeling in my gut that things could explode with one bad pitch.

It doesn’t have to be on purpose, but neither side will believe that it’s not intentional. I hope cooler heads continue to prevail as things get very dangerous when we’re talking about throwing projectiles at 95+ mph, but this feels more like hope than expectation at this point.

The Rays will look to continue keeping the Yankees out of the win column as they’ve gone 13-5 since the beginning of 2020 including the playoffs.