Tommy Pham scored on a sixth-inning double by CJ Cron on Sunday. (Photo Credit: Tampa Bay Rays)

Following their 5-2 win in the road finale against the Blue Jays on Sunday, the Tampa Bay Rays returned home to the friendly confines of Tropicana Field ahead of a four-game series against the New York Yankees. In spite of the two tough losses in Toronto, the Rays won five of seven during their last road trip of the season. The Yankees took two of three from the lowly Orioles, yet fell 6-3 on Sunday. They are 5-5 in their last 10 games and 10-10 over a 20-game stretch.

(Stats Credit: ESPN)

The Rays remain mathematically alive in the AL Wildcard race, although they will need a lot of help from Seattle this week, as they sit 6.5 games behind the Oakland Athletics for the final Wildcard spot with 7 games remaining. However, Tampa Bay’s tragic number is down to one, meaning one more Oakland win or Rays loss officially ends it.

There is still a way the Rays can make it to the playoffs, albeit one that is absolutely improbable: Tampa Bay must win all seven games on their homestand against the Yankees and Blue Jays, while the Athletics must lose the final six games of their season. The odds of that happening are astronomical, to say the least.

Still, as Marc Topkin (Tampa Bay Times) opined, the Rays might be motivated to make life tough on the rival Yankees, who are trying to keep the home-field advantage in the AL Wildcard game. On top of that, the team has a chance to finish with 90-plus wins, thus defying even the bullish 85-win PECOTA projection from February. And while that may not offer much solace to the casual fan, two things bear mentioning:

  1. The Rays are a young team with a high upside for years to come. A successful season at the big league level will go a long way for the kids.
  2. The last time the Rays put together a 90+ win campaign without the benefit of a trip to the playoffs (in 2012), they played relevant games past September 30 the following season — a game 163 tie-breaker, and the subsequent Wildcard win thrust them into the ALDS against Boston.
(Stats Credit: FanGraphs)

As has been the case for the second half of the season (.268 BA/.346 OBP/.430 SLG/.776 OPS/.336 wOBA/115 +wRC for Tampa Bay vs .242 BA/.326 OBP/.424 SLG/.750 OPS/.325 wOBA/103 wRC+ for New York) the Rays have outperformed the Yankees offensively over the last 14 days. The question begs, however: Can the Rays continue their recent dominance over the Yankees? Tampa Bay has won eight of the last 10 games against the Bronx Bummers after starting the season 0-5. Moreover, the Rays are 5-1 against the Yankees at home.

Pitching Probables

Note: It is rather difficult to project who will take the mound over the life of the series since only one hurler has been named; Diego Castillo (3-2, 3.25 ERA) will open the series for the Rays. Beyond that, it’s a reasonable assumption the below-listed hurlers will toe the rubber for dueling foes this week, based on when they last pitched. This projection is in no way, shape, or form set in stone. I will make note of any changes as they are announced, either in this series preview or in subsequent articles.

Kevin Cash could lean primarily on Ryan Yarbrough (15-5, 3.88 ERA), Yonny Chirinos (4-5, 3.68 ERA), Jalen Beeks (5-1, 5.36 ERA), and Tyler Glasnow (2-7, 4.23 ERA) over the next four days. Aaron Boone could counter with Luis Severino (18-8, 3.38 ERA), Masahiro Tanaka (12-5, 3.67 ERA), CC Sabathia (8-7, 3.77 ERA), and Lance Lynn (9-10, 4.80 ERA).

(Stats Credit: ESPN)

Diego Castillo has been the Rays’ opener on 10 occasions so far this season, and Monday will mark the 11th. Castillo allowed one run on one hit (a home run) in one inning of work on Friday. Otherwise, the right-hander has given up just two runs in his last eight appearances (totaling 11-2/3 innings) while striking out 15 and walking just two (a 7.5 K/BB over that stretch).

Ryan Yarbrough picked up his 15th win of the season on Wednesday, allowing three runs on five hits and two walks across four innings. He struck out six. The southpaw wasn’t exactly sharp, but he was able to pick up the win thanks to a plethora of run support from Tampa Bay’s offense. Working primarily as a long reliever, the southpaw has posted a 3.88 ERA and 1.28 WHIP with 123 strikeouts across 139-1/3 innings this season.

Luis Severino picked up his 18th win on the season on Wednesday, allowing one run on six hits and one walk across seven innings. He collected six punch outs. Severino was in control all along, allowing just one extra-base hit en route to his first win, and quality start, of September. Prior to Wednesday’s outing, the right-hander hadn’t completed seven innings since August 8. Severino has now allowed just two runs over his last two starts (totaling 12-2/3 innings). He is 2-1 with a 3.54 ERA in three starts against the Rays this season, but 0-1 with a 10.80 ERA at the Trop after a disastrous five-inning, six-run outing on July 23. Key Matchups: Jake Bauers (3-5, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Matt Duffy (2-8), Carlos Gomez (1-4), Mallex Smith (3-10, 2B) 

Yonny Chirinos tossed 4-2/3 scoreless innings, yet took a no-decision on Thursday, allowing just one hit and a walk while striking out five. After the “opener” Ryne Stanek allowed three straight hits to start the second inning, Chirinos came in and shut the Blue Jays down. The 24-year-old now owns a 3.68 ERA and would’ve earned the victory had it not been for a ninth-inning bullpen meltdown.

Masahiro Tanaka allowed five earned runs on eight hits and no walks while striking out three across four innings on Thursday against the Red Sox. Tanaka never got comfortable on the mound, allowing at least one earned run in three of the four innings he completed. It was his highest earned run total since August 10, and the first time he has not worked at least five innings in his last eight turns. The right-hander is 1-1 with a 1.20 ERA against the Rays this season, including a complete game shutout on July 24. Key Matchups: CJ Cron (3-6, 2B), Carlos Gomez (3-10, 2B, RBI, BB), Kevin Kiermaier (7-22, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, BB), Brandon Lowe (1-2, 2B), Tommy Pham (2-3, 2B, RBI), Jesus Sucre (2-5, 2B, RBI), Joey Wendle (2-3, 2B, RBI)

Jalen Beeks allowed two runs on two hits (two solo home runs) across three innings on Friday. That outing came on the heels of a two-inning shutout appearance on Wednesday in Arlington. Beeks hasn’t given up a ton of runs, just six in his last seven appearances, however, he also has thrown more than four innings just once (8/24 vs Boston).

CC Sabathia allowed two runs on six hits and three walks while striking out five across six innings in a win against Baltimore on Friday. The southpaw surrendered a two-run single in the fifth inning but exited the ballgame with a four-run lead after throwing 59 of 97 pitches for strikes (61% strike rate). Sabathia was coming off a seven-run, 2-1/3 inning outing — his shortest start of the season. He has posted a 3.77 ERA and 1.35 WHIP with 135 strikeouts through 148 innings this season. Sabathia is 0-2 with a 2.77 ERA in two starts against the Rays this season. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (2-6, RBI), Matt Duffy (5-9, 2 RBI), Carlos Gomez (9-21, 2B, HR, 2 RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (5-16, 2 HR, 2 RBI), Adam Moore (1-2)  

Tyler Glasnow took the loss to the Blue Jays on Saturday despite giving up three runs in six innings. He allowed six hits (including a home run) and two walks while fanning six. The right-hander gave up all three runs in the fourth inning on Rowdy Tellez’s two-run homer and Reese McGuire’s run-scoring double. Glasnow notched his fourth quality start in five outings although he is 1-5 in his last six turns.

Lance Lynn didn’t factor into the decision on Saturday, allowing two runs (one earned) in five innings. He allowed seven hits and two walks while striking out four along the way. Lynn has worked either five or six innings and given up two or fewer runs in each of his last three starts. He has done just enough to eat innings at the back end of New York’s rotation with questionable depth. In spite of a 4.80 ERA and 4.39 BB/9 on the season, he’s fanned 9.20 batters per nine across 153-2/3 innings. Lynn last faced the Rays on April 20, in a 6 IP/7 H/5 R/5 BB outing. Key Matchups: Matt Duffy (2-6), Kevin Kiermaier (2-6, 2B), Tommy Pham (1-2), Mallex Smith (1-2, BB), Joey Wendle (1-3) 

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