After taking three of four from the reigning World Series champions, the playoff-contending Tampa Bay Rays are set to embark on the final home series of the season, a two-game set against the New York Yankees. The Yankees took two of three from the Blue Jays.
Both teams are 6-4 in their last 10 games, while the Rays are better at home than the Yankees are on the road (47-31 vs. 45-31).
With five games left to play (two vs. New York, and three vs. Toronto), Tampa Bay enters the series 1-1/2 games behind Oakland for the top Wildcard and 1/2 game ahead of Cleveland for the final playoff spot.
Thanks to Monday’s win, the Rays chances of a postseason berth are 65.1% according to FanGraphs. Baseball Prospectus gives them a 60.5% chance.
Suffice it to say, this is an incredibly important series against an opponent Tampa Bay has not fared well against. Yet, even though the Rays have gone just 5-12 against the Yankees this season, they have gone 3-4 against them at home. Is that great? Clearly not. BUT, that is far better than their 2-8 record at Yankee Stadium.
It will not be easy for the Rays, who currently hold their own destiny. The Yankees already saw the returns of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Luke Voit, while Edwin Encarnacion is expected to return this week. Even without the “big boppers,” the Evil Empire has been mightily productive this season.
Still, Tampa Bay has won 14 of the last 20 games while New York is one game off that pace. And while the Yankees have plated 126 runs in the month of September, which is a formidable total to be sure, the Rays have been no slackers, scoring just 15 runs fewer over the same span — 1.33 runs fewer per game (on average). Over that stretch, the Rays have faced a far more difficult schedule than the Yankees, who played just five games against plus .500 teams. The team has also been much better with runners in score position, hitting at least .300 in five of the last seven series. In doing so, they’ve performed to a combined .330 wOBA and an above-average wRC+.
Tampa Bay has played some of its best baseball of late, and the Rays will need to continue to play at a high level heading into the final series of the season, in Toronto.
Over the next two days, Kevin Cash will throw right-hander Yonny Chirinos (9-5, 3.67 ERA), and team co-MVP Charlie Morton (15-6, 3.15 ERA). Aaron Boone is expected to counter with a bullpen day in the series opener, and Masahiro Tanaka (11-8, 4.47 ERA) in the series finale.
Yonny Chirinos will open for Tampa Bay on Tuesday. The right-hander returned from the IL over the weekend, making an appearance out of the bullpen Saturday against the Red Sox and allowing one run while striking out two batters across one inning. Chirinos will likely work longer Tuesday, although he will be on a pitch count as he slowly builds back up following his lengthy absence. Brendan McKay, who was originally slated to start Tuesday, is a candidate to piggyback Chirinos. The right-hander is 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA in five outings (three starts) against the Yankees this season.
Brendan McKay allowed three runs on three hits and a walk while striking out three across four innings on Wednesday. The southpaw allowed three runs on two hits and a walk in the second inning, but limited Los Angeles to just one other base runner in his four innings of work. The 23-year-old is 2-4 on the season with a 5.40 ERA with a 1.41 WHIP over 46-2/3 innings of work. In his last appearance against the Yankees, McKay allowed three runs on six hits (including a homer) over five innings. He fanned three.
Yankees Bullpen Day
Charlie Morton was sharp over the first six frames, allowing just three hits — two on the infield — and a walk over that stretch while striking out six. However, he surrendered a two-run homer to Mitch Moreland in the seventh inning before exiting the contest. Even so, Morton is 2-0 over his last four turns, allowing three runs or fewer in each outing. The right-hander owns a 3.15 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, with a 4.3 K/BB across 188-2/3 innings this season. Morton is 1-1 with a 5.28 ERA in three starts (15-1/3 innings) against New York in 2019, but 7-3 with a 2.75 ERA in 16 starts (98-1/3 innings) at Tropicana Field this season.
Masahiro Tanaka gave up one earned run on four hits over seven innings against the Angels on Thursday, striking out six and walking none. Tanaka had given up eight runs over nine innings in two previous outings, but he bounced back with a sharp effort against Anaheim, allowing him to cruise to his 11th win of the season. Even so, the right-hander has had an erratic campaign overall, with a 4.47 ERA across 179 innings on the season. Be that as it may, Tanaka has been deadly against the Rays this season, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.59 ERA over four starts, and a 1-0 record with a 3.28 ERA in three starts at the Trop (13-1/3 innings of work). Key Matchups: Michael Brosseau (2-3, 2 2B), Ji-Man Choi (4-14, 2 2B, BB), Guillermo Heredia (1-4), Kevin Kiermaier (9-34, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI, BB), Nate Lowe (1-3, HR, RBI), Austin Meadows (3-11, HR, RBI, 2 BB), Eric Sogard (3-8, 2B, HR, RBI), Joey Wendle (3-11, 2B, 2 RBI), Mike Zunino (6-21, 2 2B, 2 HR, 2 RBI, BB)