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Last call. The Yankees and Rays square off for the final time in the 2020 regular season this week. With a little less than half the season remaining, this is a pivotal series. The Yankees are 1-6 against the Rays this year and trail Tampa Bay by 3.5 games in the division race. Needless to say, the Bombers can’t afford getting swept by the Rays at home again.

Their story so far

The 24-11 Rays are on fire. Not only are they riding a five game winning streak into the Bronx, but they’ve also won 18 of their last 21 ballgames. Tampa Bay currently sits atop of the American League playoff picture, and only the Dodgers have a better record in all of MLB. They’re now the heavy favorites in the AL East:

Yesterday’s 12 run outburst against the Marlins aside, Tampa Bay’s bats have cooled down a bit since we last saw them. Entering yesterday’s game vs. Miami, the Rays were hitting .236/.329/.380 (97 wRC+) from August 21st to August 29th, basically the week after that series at Yankee Stadium. That’s a bit closer to the expectations for Tampa Bay’s offense on paper, though to be fair, they’re probably a little better than that.

The Rays’ pitching has remained on fire over that same stretch too. They’ve allowed just 29 runs over their last 9 games (7 of those came yesterday). Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s pitchers have dropped like flies as I’ll note in the next section. All the pitching injuries haven’t thrown the Rays off track, though. At least, not yet.

Injury Report

  • RHP Oliver Drake (biceps tendinitis)
  • RHP Charlie Morton (shoulder inflammation, expected to start this series)
  • LHP José Alvarado (shoulder inflammation)
  • RHP Nick Anderson (forearm inflammation)
  • C Mike Zunino (strained oblique)
  • LHP Ryan Yarbrough (strained groin)
  • OF Brett Phillips (COVID-19 protocol)
  • LHP Colin Poche (Tommy John surgery)
  • RHP Yonny Chirinos (Tommy John surgery)
  • LHP Jalen Beeks (Tommy John surgery)
  • RHP Andrew Kittredge (elbow sprain)
  • RHP Chaz Roe (elbow soreness)

Spotlight: Manuel Margot

Tampa Bay picked up Margot in the offseason in exchange for reliever Emilio Pagán, one of the many outfield transactions the Rays made over the offseason. There didn’t seem to be an immediate starting role fit for Margot, who once was a top-100 prospect while with the Red Sox and Padres a few years back. Margot simply has never really hit enough to be a regular, but the Rays have somehow gotten the best out of him this season.

Margot joined the Rays with a .248/.301/.394 (84 wRC+) lifetime batting line in 1,526 plate appearances. He basically was an all-glove, no-bat guy for the Padres. But now, Margot is hitting .300/.364/.412 (118 wRC+) in 88 trips to the plate. We’re still in small sample size territory, but there are some differences in Margot’s underlying numbers thus far.

For a guy who doesn’t hit for power, Margot sure did lift the ball a bit too much in San Diego. He had a 1.07 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio last season, but that also included a sky-high 18.7 pop-up rate. That’s not good for a guy who’s in the upper-echelon of sprint speed. It appears that Tampa Bay has made some tweaks to fix this.

This year, Margot’s hitting 1.35 grounders for every fly ball, easily a career high. His pop-ups are down to 10 percent as well. This is driven by a lower launch angle (8.0 degrees) compared to last year (14.2). He’d been at or above 10.4 degrees annually since 2017, by the way. This adjustment now has his xBA and xwOBA per Statcast are .282 and .340, respectively. Both are career highs. Last year, Margot’s xBA and xwOBA were near the bottom of MLB.

Margot’s not quite an everyday player for the Rays yet, though Kevin Cash has gotten him in the lineup frequently of late. Tampa Bay has so many outfielders that it’s hard to get everyone a fair shake. But as long as Margot keeps hitting, he’s going to put pressure on Cash to play him.

Projected Lineup

  1. Austin Meadows, LF (.244/.326/.451, 111 wRC+)
  2. Brandon Lowe, RF (.282/.378/.632, 171 wRC+)
  3. Yandy Díaz, 3B (.297/.422/.378, 132 wRC+)
  4. Ji-Man Choi, 1B (.211/.304/.368, 81 wRC+)
  5. Yoshi Tsutsugo, DH (.188/.320/.400, 101 wRC+)
  6. Joey Wendle, 2B (.292/.344/.472, 124 wRC+)
  7. Willy Adames, SS (.283/.367/.519, 142 wRC+)
  8. Kevin Kiermaier, CF (.233/.333/.349, 94 wRC+)
  9. Michael Pérez, C (.186/.217/.256, 28 wRC+)

Bench:

  • C Kevan Smith (296 wRC+ in 7 PA)
  • UTIL Michael Brosseau (167 wRC+)
  • OF Randy Arozarena (124 wRC+ in 2 PA)
  • OF Manuel Margot (118 wRC+)
  • OF/1B Brian O’Grady (174 wRC+ in 5 PA)
  • OF Hunter Renfroe (69 wRC+)

Pitching Matchups

Tonight, 7:05 p.m. EDT: RHP Tyler Glasnow (vs. Yankees) vs. Gerrit Cole (vs. Rays)

After a good start against the Yankees a couple weeks ago, Glasnow followed it up with another gem against Baltimore. In seven innings, the righty fanned 13 batters and allowed just 2 runs. Two rough starts earlier in the year (one against the Yankees, the other vs. Boston), skew his ERA above 5, but he’s obviously way better than that. Glasnow is ace-caliber and is a tough matchup for the Yankees tonight.

Glasnow.

On the other side, Cole is coming off his worst start of the season in which he surrendered three homers to Atlanta. That came after a very good start against Tampa Bay (6 2/3 innings, 2 runs, 10 strikeouts), so hopefully we get something closer to that instead. Cole’s been struggling to keep the ball in the yard this season, having allowed a homer in each and every start, so it’d be nice to stop that streak tonight.

Tomorrow, 7:05 p.m. EDT: RHP Trevor Richards (vs. Yankees) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Rays)

The Yankees have seen Richards twice this year, but never as a starter. He’s pitched as a “bulk” guy twice vs. the Bombers, throwing 7 total innings (4 runs, 2 earned). This will be his third start of the season. The righty, who came along in the Nick Anderson trade with Miami, doesn’t have great stuff and appears eminently hittable. If only the Yankees’ lineup was healthy.

Richards.

Tanaka was brilliant against Atlanta last time out. Against the Rays this year, he’s had one excellent start (5 shutout frames on 8/7) and one bad outing (6 runs in 4 innings).

Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. EDT: RHP Charlie Morton (vs. Yankees) vs. LHP Jordan Montgomery (vs. Rays)

Morton is expected off the injured list to make this start. He’s been dealing with shoulder inflammation this season. The righty hasn’t pitched since August 9th, when he lasted just two innings against the Yankees. Fastball velocity will be the thing to watch: he averaged just 92.7 MPH on it in four starts this year compared to 94.7 last year and 96.1 in 2018.

Morton.

Aside from one poor start in Philadelphia, Monty has been really good for the Yankees this season. He’s looked sharp in all three starts since that game in Philly, in fact. Montgomery has a 3.68 ERA and 2.52 FIP in 14 2/3 innings since then. The Rays have yet to see Montgomery this season.

Bullpen Status

RHP: Diego Castillo, Pete Fairbanks, John Curtiss, Ryan Thompson, Édgar García, Aaron Slegers

LHP: Aaron Loup, Ryan Sherriff, Cody Reed

Had I heard of many of these relievers before this year? No. But as usual, almost any reliever the Rays touch turns to gold. So even without Anderson, Roe, Beeks, Alvarado, Poche, and Kittredge, this isn’t a group to sleep on. It’s certainly not as good of a bullpen without those guys, but it’s not necessarily a bad crew of pitchers. Plus, they come into this series with the Yankees well rested. Only Sherriff (6 pitches) and Slegers (19) threw yesterday. Curtiss (10), Thompson (11), Loup (15), and García (15) threw Saturday. The rest have had at least two days off.


The Yankees have to redeem themselves this series. Winning two of three is the minimum. It’ll be tough without the big bats in the lineup, but Tampa Bay is banged up too. Remember, this is the last chance for the Yankees to directly gain ground on the Rays this season.