I can distinctly recall the mantra of the 2011 season being “Impossible? No. Improbable? Yes.” The Tampa Bay Rays put themselves into a hole that no other team, historically, had been able to dig themselves out of — yet they did. Then last season, with their playoff hopes quickly slipping away, they put together a season ending run which found the Rays in the postseason for the fourth time in six years. This year is different, and I’d imagine that the lyrics, “All I know is that I don’t know, all I know is that I don’t know nothing,” would be an apt maxim for the remainder of the season.
Whatever the case, Tampa Bay is set to embark on a gauntlet of sorts, one which finds them butting heads with four plus .500 teams over the next 32 days — all of whom the Rays need to fare well against if they have any hope of making it to the postseason. All bets are off as to whether the fruits of their labor will payoff. However, one thing is certain: The Rays won’t go anywhere if they don’t continue playing well as they have since the beginning of June. On second thought, No Choice may have crafted a better mantra, “Try and you just might. Don’t and you certainly won’t.”
Enter the Yankees.
Losers of eight of their last 15 — including four consecutive losses — the Yankees continue to sputter their way through the 2014 season. Truth be told, I’m surprised they’ve been able to stave off irrelevancy as long as they have, especially when you consider four of their five starters are on the DL, and their juggernaut-like offense has been anything but.
Maybe it’s their constant roster shuffling? The Evil Empire has made a series of recent additions — Chase Headley, Martin Prado, Stephen Drew and Pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Rich Hill — while dumping Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson along the way. New York has used 52 players (second most in franchise history), with eight making their big-league debuts. Of a team-record 31 pitchers, 19 have at least one win.
The Rays — winners of seven of 10 between the two AL East rivals — have fared well against the Yankees this season. It should also be noted that Tampa Bay is 20-11 (against the Yankees) at home since 2011.
Brandon McCarthy: The former Diamondback has been good since joining the Yankees in July, posting a 2.21 ERA in six starts. Additionally, he’s been very good against the Rays over the last few years, going 3-0 in his last three starts while yielding a paltry three runs in 23 innings of work. The 31 year-old ground-baller tends to pound the lower regions of the zone, yet he has been touched up for 18 homers this season, and his HR/FB% is significantly higher than in previous years. So… Key matchups: Yunel Escobar (2-4), Jose Molina (3-10, 2B), Sean Rodriguez (2-8).
Shane Greene: The Rays have never faced the Yankees 25 year-old RHP who’s coming off an impressive 8.0 IP/5 H/0 R start against the Tigers. Greene features a two-seam fastball that sits at 94-95 MPH with run and sink, a low eighties slider with nasty movement (per Baseball Prospectus, it has the fourth-best movement among all sliders this season), a change-up, and a high eighties cutter which he throws most often to left handed batters when he’s ahead in the count.
Hiroki Kuroda: …And then there’s Kuroda, who the Rays have had a lot of success over the last few years. They’ve tagged Kuroda for a 2-4 record and a 6.06 ERA since 2010. To be fair, the 39 year-old righty was able to hold Tampa Bay to just two runs in July, however, the Rays won both of Kuroda’s starts this season. Key matchups: Logan Forsythe (3-8, RBI, 2 BB), Desmond Jennings (5-15, 2B, RBI, BB), Matt Joyce (7-20, 3 HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB), Evan Longoria (9-21, 2B, HR, 5 RBI), Ben Zobrist (5-18, 2 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 4 BB).
- The Yankees have totaled seven runs while batting .164 with 34 strikeouts during their four-game slide.
- The Rays have set an AL record by allowing three runs or less in 18 straight road games.
- Alex Cobb (7-6, 3.41 ERA) is 5-0 with a 2.57 ERA in eight starts since losing to Pittsburgh on June 23. He’s 4-0 with a 1.49 ERA in his last five starts against the Yankees. Brett Gardner, Derek Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury are a combined 6 for 32 against Cobb.