|Rays look to get on track vs. rival Yankees|
Going into the originally scheduled 162-game season, the Tampa Bay Rays were viewed as a potent challenger to the New York Yankees for American League East supremacy. When the 60-game season was announced, the Rays were still considered a formidable challenger to the Yankees.
So far, the Rays are not living up to those expectations, however. But now they get a chance to start reversing their slow start Friday night when they host the Yankees in the opener of a four-game series.
Last season, the Rays won 96 games to finish seven games behind the Yankees -- but made the playoffs and sparked hopes for a third straight 90-win season. At 5-7, they are currently four games behind the Yankees and, thanks to the shortened schedule, holding less time to get rolling.
Tampa Bay started decently, winning four of its first five games as Austin Meadows was recovering from coronavirus. Since a 5-2 win over Atlanta on July 28, however, the Rays are 1-6.
The offense has been a significant problem for Tampa Bay. The Rays enter this series with a .211 team batting average, a .303 on-base percentage and no more than five runs scored in any game since July 27.
The latest offensive struggles occurred Wednesday in a 5-0 home loss to the Boston Red Sox. Tampa Bay mustered four hits, struck out 11 times and went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
"We know we have to step it up, we know we have to figure it out because they've been playing good," Rays shortstop Willy Adames said. "It's going to be a good series for us. We have to figure it out."
Tampa Bay's pitching owns a 3.63 earned run average entering the series and will start left-hander Blake Snell (0-0, 5.40 ERA), who has experienced mixed results against the Yankees.
Snell is 3-6 with a 4.41 ERA in 16 career starts against the Yankees, who are his most frequent opponent. He is 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA in five starts against New York at home.
Snell has not thrown more than 53 pitches in his first two starts. He last pitched a week ago in a 6-3 loss at Baltimore, when he faced 14 hitters and allowed three runs on four hits in three innings.
The Yankees head to Tampa Bay coming off a four-game split with the Philadelphia Phillies in a series that was delayed a week due to the Phillies potentially being exposed to coronavirus when they faced the Miami Marlins.
New York won seven straight before dropping two of three in Philadelphia and stranded two in the ninth in Thursday's 5-4 loss before heading to Florida.
"I am not," Yankees outfielder Mike Tauchman said when asked about concerns heading to Florida. "I understand that's kind of a hot spot but I feel that the protocols that the team has put in place and I feel like the lengths we're going to as a group are going to keep us in good shape."
The Yankees have homered in a team-record 12 straight games to start the season and on Thursday struggling catcher Gary Sanchez hit New York's latest homer.
To prepare for the series against Tampa Bay, the Yankees did not start Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu, who are amongst their hottest hitters. LeMahieu is batting .429 after getting a single as a pinch hitter Thursday and Judge is batting .302 with seven homers and 17 RBIs after striking out as a pinch hitter Thursday.
Masahiro Tanaka (0-0, 3.38) will make his second start since returning from a mild concussion sustained in a simulated game July 4. He will likely be on a pitch count after allowing two runs on four hits and throwing 51 pitches in 2 2/3 innings during Saturday's 5-2 win over Boston.
Tanaka is 10-4 with a 3.20 ERA in 18 career starts against Tampa Bay and 4-2 with a 1.79 ERA in his last eight starts against the Rays.
--Field Level Media