I think we are officially at the point in the season where every game and every series is a must-win for the Yankees, and it doesn’t really matter who it’s against. They are 3.5 games back of the second wildcard spot, so wins are imperative and the fact that the series is against a team that the Yankees are “chasing” is secondary; the should-be rival Tampa Bay Rays are 8 games ahead of New York and one back of Boston. After a deflating series against the Red Sox, the Yankees are once again hoping for the tide to turn as they head to the Trop.
The Story So Far
Since these two teams last met on June 3, the Rays are 24-17 and have basically kept pace with Boston. They suffered through a 4-12 stretch in late June and early July, but are 7-3 since the All-Star Break and just had a five-game win streak snapped on Sunday.
The Rays’ offense has continued to be productive. They scored 9, 5, 5, 10, and 8 runs respectively during their recent win streak, and have averaged 4.94 runs per game this season, good for a close 5th in the American League. Their lineup is full of above-average performers on hot streaks – Yandy Diaz is OPSing 1.001 over the month of July, Brett Phillips has put up a .917 mark over the same time period, Joey Wendle has hit .320 over 13 games this month, and Brandon Lowe has raised his slugging percentage over thirty points since July 2. The Rays also just added big bopper Nelson Cruz in a trade, and have called up wunderkind Wander Franco since last time they faced the Yankees.
The starting pitching is a little bit in flux, with ace Tyler Glasnow possibly out for the season and the reliable Rich Hill recently traded to the other New York team, but whatever the Rays have been doing recently seems to have been working overall.
|Ryan Thompson||RP||Shoulder||Out until at least late July|
|Collin McHugh||RP||Arm||Out until at least early August|
|Chris Archer||RP||Forearm||Out until at least early August|
|J.P. Feyereisen||RP||Biceps||Out until at least early August|
|Nick Anderson||RP||Elbow||Out until at least early August|
|Oliver Drake||RP||Elbow||Out until at least early August|
|Manuel Margot||RF||Hamstring||Out until at least late July|
|Chaz Roe||RP||Shoulder||Out for the season|
|Tyler Glasnow||SP||Elbow||Out until at least late August|
|Cody Reed||RP||Shoulder||Out for the season|
|Yonny Chirinos||SP||Elbow||Out for the season|
|Colin Poche||RP||Elbow||Out until at least early September|
|Jalen Beeks||RP||Elbow||Out until at least early September|
Spotlight: Wander Franco
Coming into 2021, 20-year-old infielder Wander Franco was pretty much universally considered the #1 prospect in baseball. The top signee in the 2017 international draft, Franco has an 80 hit tool and scouts say he could be the top switch-hitter of his era. He lived up to the hype in the minor leagues, slashing .351/.418/.587 in Rookie League in 2018, and slashing .327/.398/.487 between low-A and high-A in 2019. Due to the pandemic, he did not play a professional game in 2020, although he was in the Rays’ postseason player pool as a potential call-up.
Franco was invited to spring training in 2021, but was assigned to the Durham Bulls to start the season. He proved that he could more than handle Triple-A pitching, OPSing .954 over 39 games and earning a promotion. He made his major league debut on June 22 against the Red Sox, and in his first major league game he went 2-for-4 and hit his first home run. He’s consistently been in the Rays’ lineup since then, and although his stats have not yet been eye-popping (he’s slashing .222/.271/.364 through 22 games thus far) he’s certainly shown flashes of his potential. He had a three-hit game against Cleveland last week, and according to Baseball Savant has an above-average hard hit percentage and elite sprint speed.
The Yankees have never faced Franco before, but with his talent he could certainly pose a threat. From his minor league stats, he appears to hit righties slightly better than lefties, which could be an advantage for the Yankees throwing two left-handers this weekend, but he is certainly strong from both sides of the plate. Franco could be a stalwart in lineups the Yankees face regularly for the next decade, so it will be interesting to see how they handle him as he begins his major league career.
Below is Roster Resource’s projected starting lineup for the Rays.
- Brandon Lowe, 2B (.217/.332/.459, 124 OPS+)
- Ji-Man Choi, 1B (.264/.380/.444, 136 OPS+)
- Nelson Cruz, DH (.289/.367/.542, 153 OPS+ between Minnesota and Tampa)
- Austin Meadows, LF (.241/.330/.467, 125 OPS+)
- Randy Arozarena, RF (.254/.331/.420, 114 OPS+)
- Joey Wendle, 1B (.284/.340/.457, 126 OPS+)
- Wander Franco, SS (.222/.271/.364, 80 OPS+)
- Mike Zunino, C (.199/.296/.517, 127 OPS+)
- Kevin Kiermaer, CF (.234/.294/.326, 78 OPS+)
LHP Jordan Montgomery
Jordan Montgomery was excellent in Thursday’s opener against Boston last week, allowing no runs on three hits and six strikeouts over 5.2 innings. His season ERA is now 3.96 and he’s averaged more than a strikeout per inning over 105 innings this year.
LHP Shane McClanahan
Rookie Shane McClanahan has a 3.88 ERA this year over 14 starts and pitched well in his last start against Baltimore, surrendering one run and striking out seven over five innings to get the win. McClanahan made his major league debut against the Yankees in the ALDS last October and has been a stable force in the Rays rotation this season.
LHP Nestor Cortes
Nestor Cortes faltered on Friday against the Red Sox in his first appearance since hitting the COVID IL, surrendering 3 runs in 2 innings in a 6-2 loss. In his two starts this season he’s surrendered only one run in 8 innings.
RHP Michael Wacha
Michael Wacha has pitched as both a starter and reliever this year but has struggled for much of it. He comes into the series with a 5.16 ERA in 66 innings and a 1.342 WHIP. In his last start against Baltimore he gave up three runs in five innings for a no-decision.
RHP Gerrit Cole
Gerrit Cole was not at his best against the Red Sox last weekend, surrendering three runs and taking the loss despite striking out 8 over 5 innings. He seems to be getting his season back on track, pitching to a 1.80 ERA over his last three starts with 31 strikeouts in 20 innings.
RHP Luis Patiño
Luis Patiño, who debuted last year, has only made 5 starts this season, going 1-2 with a 5.26 ERA. In his last start against Cleveland, he went 5.1 innings, surrendering four runs and striking out four in a no-decision.