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Series Preview: Yankees at Rays

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It’s another AL East showdown, and the Rays are glad to be on home turf.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Rays return home after a successful short trip to Cleveland. The Rays won three out of four games as the trade deadline looms. The Rays already made a big splash in acquiring the biggest bat known to be available in designated hitter Nelson Cruz, but could see further additions before the deadline on Friday afternoon.

The Rays sit 1.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the American League East while the New York Yankees are 9.5 games back and the Toronto Blue Jays are 10.5 games behind. The Baltimore Orioles are 26.5 games behind.

The Rays are 4.5 games up on the second wild card Oakland Athletics. The Seattle Mariners sit only 1.0 game behind the Athletics as they’ve closed the gap significantly over the last week. Next in line are the American League East rival Yankees at 3.5 games behind and Blue Jays at 4.5 games back.

Matchups:

Tuesday 7:10 PM: Jordan Montgomery vs Shane McClanahan
Wednesday 7:10 PM: Nestor Cortes vs Micahel Wacha
Thursday 1:10 PM: Gerrit Cole vs Luis Patino

Jordan Montgomery is having a successful first full season back after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2019. This year he has put up a 3.96 ERA/3.58 FIP/4.00 xFIP in 104.2 innings. He’s posted a strong 24.3% strikeout rate and 7.2% walk rate. This will be the fifth time the Rays have faced Montgomery in 2021. The Rays have scored 12 runs in 23.1 innings but the Yankees are 3-1 in the matchups. Montgomery has a deep five-pitch mix. His top three pitches he throws about 25% pitch with an 82.7 mph changeup, 80.0 mph curveball, and 92.6 mph sinker. The remaining pitches are a 92.8 mph four-seam fastball and 87.5 mph cutter. Left-handers can eliminate the changeup.

Nestor Cortes has been a long man out of the Yankees bullpen for most of the year but in July has made two starts that have been in the 3-5 inning range. The left-handed pitcher has gotten great results leading to a 1.95 ERA/2.25 FIP/3.46 xFIP over 27.2 innings. He’s struck out 31.2% while walking 9.2% of batters. Cortes’s primary pitch is a 90.6 mph four-seam fastball that gets far more whiffs than you would expect. He adds an 83.8 mph slider and 77.4 mph curveball as his go-to secondary pitches. He will sprinkle in an 82.5 mph changeup to right-handed batters. Cortes hasn’t pitched to more than 18 hitters in a game so the Rays need to jump on him early before Aaron Boone gives the ball to the bullpen.

Gerrit Cole has been one of the best starters in the majors putting up a 2.74 ERA/2.81 FIP/2.87 xFIP over 125.0 innings. Despite the dominant results, the Yankees are only 10-10 in his 20 starts. The Rays have gotten to Cole in two of his three starts against the team pinning him with two losses. In the third game, he held the Rays scoreless over 7.0 innings and earned the victory. Cole’s primary weapon is a 97.6 mph four-seam fastball that he throws nearly half the time. He splits his secondary pitches between an 88.4 mph slider, 83.4 mph curveball, and 89.7 mph changeup. He rarely throws the slider against lefties but is willing to throw right on right changeups.

The Yankees bullpen has been good posting a 3.78 ERA/3.76 FIP/3.89 xFIP that places them solidly in the top ten by ERA and top five by FIP and xFIP. Over the last month, things haven’t gone as well. The Yankees have a 5.97 ERA/4.39 FIP/3.93 xFIP from their bullpen. That is the third-worst ERA in that span.

The Bronx Bombers have lacked firepower.

The New York Yankees hit in a home park that has been very homer-friendly, and bringing back a team that has been among the league leaders in homers over the last few seasons much of the same was expected. However, they haven’t really hit that well. They have one more homer than the Rays however they have scored 86 fewer runs. The Yankees are hitting .236/.324/.396 and have put up a 101 wRC+. They take their walks as they lead the league with a 10.8% walk rate, but also strike out a fair amount at 24.4%.

Currently, the Yankees are looking to get their team back after suffering a COVID outbreak coming out of the All-Star break. Jonathan Loasiga and Gio Urshela have returned, but Aaron Judge and Kyle Higashioka have not returned yet. Judge and Higashioka took batting practice at the Yankees Spring Training facility in Tampa yesterday and could be activated as soon as today.

Judge has been far and away the Yankees best hitter putting up a .282/.375/.526 line and 147 wRC+. He leads the team with 21 homers.

Giancarlo Stanton (126 wRC+, 16 HR) and Gary Sanchez (119 wRC+, 17 HR) have been very good hitters. The problem has been underperformance from most of the rest of the offensive roster.

Gio Urshela (108 wRC+), Roughned Odor (107 wRC+), and DJ LeMahieu (101 wRC+) have been solid complementary pieces. LeMahieu has been a big disappointment after signing a six-year extension this winter.

Gleyber Torres (91 wRC+) has started to hit for more power over the last few weeks and sits at six homers.

The Yankees defense has been anywhere from bad to fine. Their -18 DRS ranks in the bottom five while their +1.2 UZR ranks right in the middle. The biggest disagreement seems to sit with shortstop Gleyber Torres at -6 DRS and +0.6 UZR. Clint Frazier is on the Injured List with vertigo which helps out the Yankees defense as he’s put up -11 DRS and -6.5 UZR split between left field and right field.

Start of a big homestand.

The Rays start a nine-game homestand that starts with their two biggest division rivals. The Yankees are on the fringe of the Wild Card competition right now but the Rays could bury them ahead of the deadline. The Rays need to take care of the business in front of them and continue winning series.

This weekend the Rays face-off with the division-leading Red Sox. 13 of the final 59 games this season will be between the Rays and Red Sox. Currently, the Red Sox hold a 4-2 advantage in the matchup, but there are many games remaining between the two. Whoever can find a way to win more than their fair share will likely find themselves sitting on top of the American League East when the season draws to a close.