The Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees are set to start a three-game series at Tropicana Field on Friday night. Tampa Bay is 2-5 over a seven game span after dropping two of three against Houston, while New York has won four in a row and seven of its last eight contests.
The Yankees moved in front of Boston in the AL East this week by pulling off a three-game sweep of the Seattle Mariners, recovering from a five run deficit to walk off with a 7-5 win on Wednesday.
Suffice it to say, neither team has lit up the score board of late. That, however, is not to say that either team is incapable of performing better, because they are. Rather the Yankees have done two things the Rays have not:
- Come up with key, clutch hits. Three of the Rays’ last five losses have come by a three-run margin or less, while eight of the Yankees last 10 wins have come by three runs or fewer.
- Hold late leads. It is well documented that New York’s bullpen is very good, and well … it tends to hold late leads.
If Tampa Bay is going to have any chance of walking away with more than a win, it will have to take an early lead and hold it throughout.
As with any other time they Rays have faced the Yankees, beware of the long-ball! While they haven’t been an offensive juggernaut of late, the Yankees offense still has managed a .217 ISO and a 21.6% HR/FB over the last 14 days.
Kevin Cash will lean on Ryan Stanek (1-1, 2.21 ERA) and presumably Ryan Yarbrough (5-3, 4.21 ERA) based on how things line up, Wilmer Font (0-1, 2.20 ERA), and Blake Snell (9-4, 2.48 ERA) over the next three days. Aaron Boone will counter with CC Sabathia (4-2, 3.30 ERA), Sonny Gray (5-4, 4.89 ERA), and Domingo German (2-3, 5.09 ERA).
Ryne Stanek made the sixth start of the season on Monday and retired all five batters he faced on just 11 pitches. Stanek hasn’t allowed a run in eight appearances (10-2/3 innings) since June 2. Ryan Yarbrough took the loss on Saturday, allowing four runs on six hits over 3-2/3 innings. The southpaw struck out four and issued three walks. Yarbrough’s inability to throw strikes quickly put the Rays in a hole, of which they could never recover.
CC Sabathia allowed three runs on 10 hits and one walk over 7-2/3 innings of a loss against the Rays on Sunday. Sabathia struck out 10. All of the big damage to Sabathia’s line came in a three run/four hit second inning, with an additional runner getting thrown out at home (Matt Duffy). He had posted more than five strikeouts just twice this season heading in, but he — somewhat surprisingly — racked up double-digit punchouts for the first time since August of 2016. Overall Sabathia has pitched well of late, sporting a 2.84 ERA over four starts (25-1/3 total innings). Key Matchups: Willy Adames (1-4), CJ Cron (3-11, HR, 2 RBI), Matt Duffy (3-6, 2 RBI), Carlos Gomez (7-19, 2B, HR, 2 RBI), Adeiny Hechavarria (7-14, 2B, 3B, RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (5-13, 2 HR, 2 RBI), Wilson Ramos (3-8)
Wilmer Font has made three consecutive starts, pitching deeper each time — going from 2-1/3 innings to 3-1/3 to 4-2/3 against the Yankees on Sunday. The right-hander has allowed three runs on eight hits during that 10-1/3-inning stretch, lowering his ERA from +12 to 7.56. And while Rays remain committed to using an “opener” three times in five game stretches, Font showed that he should be able to handle starting, at least until Chris Archer returns.
Sonny Gray allowed two runs on six hits and one walk over five innings on Monday. He struck out seven. Aside from the second and fourth innings, when Gray put multiple men aboard and allowed an RBI groundout and a sacrifice-fly, he limited baserunners effectively. He pounded the strike zone at a 71% clip while coaxing 16 whiffs. Six groundball outs also helped him mitigate the damage. Gray has begun to turn things around after an abysmal start and has now allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his last six starts, allowing him to lower his ERA to 4.89. This season Gray has relied primarily on his 94 mph four-seam fastball with some natural sinking action, 94 mph sinker with armside run and above average velocity, and an 82 mph curveball with sweeping glove-side movement and exceptional bit, while also mixing in an 86 mph sweeping slider with exceptional depth. Key Matchups: Matt Duffy (1-3, HR, 2 RBI), Adeiny Hechavarria (2-6, HR, RBI), Kevin Kiermaier (4-16, 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI), Wilson Ramos (3-11, 2B, HR, 3 RBI, BB), Mallex Smith (3-9)
Blake Snell was credited the win Tuesday after he allowed one run on three hits and seven walks while fanning six over seven innings against Houston. Snell wasn’t at his sharpest with a season-high seven walks and only just over half of his pitches going for strikes (57 of 102, 56% strike rate), though he allowed just three base hits and was helped out by his defense with a couple of double plays and another out on the basepaths. Snell’s nine wins trail only Corey Kluber and Luis Severino in the American League, and he now sports a sterling 2.48 ERA. The southpaw has struggled with command of late with a 1.15 K/BB in his last three starts (18 innings), yet he’s now at 9.8 K/9 on the season.
Domingo German will make his ninth start of the season in the series finale against the Rays. Last time out, the righty pitched a career-high seven innings, allowing just a solo home run and two hits to the Mariners. German (2-4) earned the win against the Mariners on Tuesday, allowing two runs (one earned) on two hits across seven innings. He walked none and recorded nine punch outs. This season German has relied primarily on a whiffy 83 mph 12-6 curveball and a hard 96 mph four-seam fastball that generates plenty of swings and misses, while also mixing in an 88 mph changeup with obvious armside fade, and a 96 mph sinker with natural sink. Key Matchups: Willy Adames (1-3), Matt Duffy (2-3, HR, RBI), Wilson Ramos (1-3, RBI), Joey Wendle (1-3, RBI)