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New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Series Preview

The Bombers head to the Trop for a four game set.

MLB: AUG 05 Red Sox at Rays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It took some impressive thinking on the fly, and extensive reshuffling, but the Yankees were somehow able to complete their postponed series against Philadelphia without throwing a wrench into the rest of their regular season scheduling. Coming off a disappointing four-game series split with the Phillies, the Yankees head on down to Tampa to take on the division rival Rays.

The Yankees are set for their first true test in the AL East... is what I would say if the Rays hadn’t been swept by the Orioles last weekend. The three-headed monster of the Tampa starting rotation, Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, and Tyler Glasnow, has looked rather tame to start the year, and the Yankees will be looking to capitalize on their early season stumbles.

The Yankees enter Tampa at 9-3 while the Rays will defend their home turf sitting at 5-7. Here’s what you can expect for the starting pitching matchups:

Friday: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Blake Snell

Masahiro Tanaka will be making his second start of the season after fully recovering from mild concussion symptoms after his scary summer camp incident. He looked strong through the first two innings of his first outing, but the combination of a ~50 pitch limit, diminishing command, and shaky defense conspired to limit his night to 2.2 innings, surrendering four hits, one earned run, one walk and three strikeouts against the Red Sox. Expect him to be given a longer rope tonight, say 60-70 pitches, and keep an eye out to see if his increased fastball usage continues.

Blake Snell is expected to take the mound for the home team, and he will hope to improve on his shaky start to the season. In two starts, the one-time Rays ace has pitched only five total innings, surrendering two home runs, three earned runs (5.40 ERA) and a 1.800 WHIP. The Yankees, who have experienced some success against the Tampa Bay lefty, will be hoping they get more of the 2019 version of Snell, who made multiple trips to the Injured List and sported a 4.29 ERA in 107 innings, and not the 2018 Cy Young version.

Saturday (Game 1): Gerrit Cole vs. TBD

The Yankees ace will get his fourth start of the season in only the team’s fourteenth game. Given the fact he is the only consistently performing starter in the rotation, this is the best scenario the Yankees could have asked for. The tall righty is 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA, 4.23 FIP and 16 strikeouts in 17.2 innings pitched. As Tyler wrote about earlier in the week, this is Cole in only about third gear, so any step forward is a step closer to the dominance we have come to expect from him over the last two-plus years.

Although no definite starter has been announced, a good bet for Cole’s opponent on the mound would be Tyler Glasnow. When he’s on, Glasnow is one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball from a stuff standpoint. He got off to a scorching start last year, posting a 6-1 record with a 1.78 ERA, 2.26 FIP, 0.890 WHIP and 76 strikeouts in 60.2 innings before his season was derailed by a throwing arm strain. Luckily for the Yankees, Glasnow has not quite approached those heights in the early going. So far, he has 3.12 ERA, 4.49 FIP, 1.038 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in his two no-decision outings totaling 8.2 innings.

Saturday (Game 2): TBD vs. TBD

No pitchers have been announced for the second game of the double header created by the rescheduling of the Phillies series. A bullpen game is the most likely scenario, which means Jonathan Loaisiga is the best bet to open for the Yankees. The flame-throwing righty has opened two games for the Yankees in 2020, and has shown improvement across each of his three total appearances.

Meanwhile, a good guess to open for the Rays might be Trevor Richards, who was recalled to the team after fifth starter Yonny Chirinos landed on the 10-day IL with triceps inflammation. Richards has had a rocky start to his 2020 campaign, surrendering six runs on ten hits in only 5.1 innings, which earned him the demotion to the alternate site.

Sunday: James Paxton vs. Charlie Morton

Yankees fans will be holding their breath for this game, as the floundering James Paxton takes the mound against the Tampa Bay ace. Nothing has gone right for the Yankees lefty in his two starts, and another poor start would really set off the alarm bells for the Bombers. Paxton’s fastball is a shell of its former self, sitting almost three MPH below its 2019 season average.

Paxton admitted that even he was very concerned over the drop in velocity, tying it to a mechanical issue. Whether this issue stems from recovery from offseason back surgery or the abbreviated ramp up period is something only Paxton and the Yankees know, however if it still lingers Sunday afternoon the Yankees could be in for a rough go.

Opposite Paxton on the mound will most likely be Charlie Morton. Morton himself has experienced a dip in fastball velocity, down just over two MPH from last year, but at 36 years old, this is far more expected than for the 31-year-old Paxton. And unlike Paxton, Morton has maintained a level of effectiveness in his three starts.

Relative to Paxton, Morton sports much more palatable numbers in the ERA (5.52 vs. 13.50) and WHIP department (1.364 vs 3.250). Also concerning for the Yankees is the resounding success Morton has maintained when facing the pinstripes. In eight career starts against the Yankees, Morton has a 3.97 ERA with 65 strikeouts in only 47.2 innings pitched, making Sunday’s affair a challenging one.