Yankees-Rays preview: 3 keys for Yankees to win series in Tampa

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Brosseau rounds bases against Chapman
Brosseau rounds bases against Chapman

So the Yankees have been much better lately, no? The non-Gerrit Cole parts of their rotation have blossomed (Cole is perpetually in full bloom, obviously) and Giancarlo Stanton has continued hitting. In fact, the Yanks are 13-6 in their last 19 games and up to 18-16 overall.

But maybe that’s only because they haven’t faced the Rays over those last 19 games. We’re only half-kidding.

Welcome to another spicy installment of what has evolved into a compelling AL East rivalry between the Yankees and Rays, one with real heat and, perhaps, a postseason spot at stake in a few months. The Yanks begin a 10-game road trip Tuesday when they start a series at the Trop against a team adept at annoying them.

The Rays, who won the AL pennant last season, have beaten the Yankees five times in six meetings so far this year, out-scoring them, 36-20. Since the start of 2020, they are 16-5 against the Yankees, including an ALDS victory last year.

There’s always leftover angst when the teams meet and this edgy three-game set is no different. Every hit-by-pitch will be parsed like it’s part of some kind of violent code and don’t be surprised if every postgame quote is, too.

Should be fun. But for it to be fun for the Yankees they’ll have to, as Aaron Boone put it, “turn that table a little bit.”

Here are three potential keys to doing just that:

Use Voit’s voltage

First baseman Luke Voit should return during the series, which means the Yanks will get a welcome dose of his engaging swag just in time for what’s sure to be an emotional series. Maybe they’ll get a homer-hop or two, too. Voit, who mashed while rehabbing, led MLB in home runs last season and injects plenty of brawn into the Yankee lineup, which gets significantly longer with Voit in it and DJ LeMahieu sliding over to second base. Voit has a career .906 OPS at the Trop, though that’s mostly fueled by his 2018 season when he was 8-for-16 there with three doubles and a homer. Let’s see if he can recapture that and give the Yankees a lift at the same time. They’ll need it -- they are only batting .168 against the Rays this season with a .552 OPS. Also, Yankee first basemen have combined to bat .150 this year with a .494 OPS. Both marks are the worst in the majors.

Oct 8, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Luke Voit (59) reacts after hitting a home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the second inning of game four of the 2020 ALDS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Luke Voit (59) reacts after hitting a home run against the Tampa Bay Rays during the second inning of game four of the 2020 ALDS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Own the bullpen battle

The Rays usually get credit for performing all kinds of relief voodoo, but the Yankees’ bullpen has been better this season. The Rays have a 3.96 relief ERA entering the series, which is 17th in MLB; the Yanks (2.79) are ranked third and have the best relief WHIP (1.02). In head-to-head competition, the Rays have a 3.48 ERA against the Yankees (3.49 ERA against the Rays). Yanks closer Aroldis Chapman is off to a ridiculous start, throwing 13 scoreless innings while allowing only four hits and four walks and striking out 29. Perhaps he can cool off Joey Wendle, who has whacked Yankee pitching for a .526 average and 1.466 OPS so far, going 10-for-19 with two home runs. Chapman has allowed just two extra-base hits this season, one of them a double by Mike Zunino of the Rays. Chapman fanned the other three Rays hitters he’s faced this year. Of course, for Chapman to be a factor, the Yanks have to get leads so he can close. Their starters, who have allowed three earned runs or fewer in 19 of their last 20 starts, could help there.

Keep cool

We know this is akin to hearing “relax” from the person you’re arguing with, but it might apply in a series in which there are always subplots. Remember, Yankee pitchers hit Rays batters four times in a three-game set the last time the clubs met in Tampa Bay. We know all about the “stable of guys who throw 98” in the Rays’ pen and Chapman’s suspension for throwing at Mike Brosseau and Brosseau’s big postseason homer against him. The teams don’t particularly like each other. The Rays seem to feed off the drama, or at least have played well enough against the Yankees in the last two years to make it seem that way. Whatever the case, the Yanks want to keep ascending. A strong series against a pesky nemesis might at least validate their recent quality play.