The Yankees have been rolling with a six-game win streak, defeating the Atlanta Braves in two straight games before handling the Sox. But their last loss came at the hands of the Rays down in Tampa. In fact, they lost that series three games to one.
With the Rays only 2.5 games behind the Yankees in the AL East, this is a pivotal three-game set for both squads. New York wants to start creating space at the top of the division, while the Rays are trying to contest that exact spot.
The Yankees have had trouble thus far with the Rays, but if there is one person who can set the tone for this series and reverse that trend, it’s Masahiro Tanaka.
It will be the same pitching matchup that the first game of the previous series saw in Tanaka and Blake Snell, two hurlers who know how to pitch efficiently and deep into games. But Tanaka won’t be on the same pitch count like he was last time, as it was only his second start of the season.
So he’s more than ready to give his team the best chance to win on Tuesday night.
“It’s an important series for us and I get to start the series,” he said on Monday via a translator. “Obviously, I want to give a W to the team so we can start the series on a good note.”
Tanaka knows all too well that the Rays are not a team to overlook any longer. They’ve developed their young talent and manager Kevin Cash has been able to maneuver his lineup effectively in the past couple of seasons. Earning 96 wins in 2019 goes to show just how well the Rays formula is working.
“The Rays have become a really good team and we need to actually beat them to get where we want to get to,” Tanaka explained. “That goes for any team, we do need to beat everybody around us obviously. But definitely they’ve become a good team and it’s a team that we really need to take care of.”
Tanaka has done just that over his 19 career starts against Tampa Bay. He owns a 3.07 ERA and .213 opponent batting average, which is the lowest career mark he has against any division team. Back on Aug. 7, he allowed a single hit and struck out five during his five innings of work.
This series is a perfect opportunity to begin to run away with the division, and a hot Yankees team would love to rectify their losses from a couple weeks ago. Though key players like Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton are on the IL, they’ve still managed to put up runs in bunches.
And they have the right man for the job on the mound in this one, too.