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New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Series Preview

The Yankees get a crack at their division foes away from the mausoleum-like confines of the Trop.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are coming off a disheartening series loss against the Blue Jays in which concerns about the effectiveness of starters not named Gerrit Cole became magnified. Compounding the issue is the fact that, outside of two-home run games by Kyle Higashioka and Aaron Judge, the rest of the offense has failed to pull their weight.

The bats will need to wake up in the upcoming series against the Rays. It seems the team from Tampa has no problem scoring whenever they face the Yankees, considering the 18 runs they put on the board in the teams’ most recent meeting in St. Pete. And so in this pivotal early season matchup, the Yankees will look to exact their revenge for the early season series dropped at the Trop.

The team should be well rested coming off the Thursday off-day, so let’s look at the probable starting pitching matchups on the card for the weekend series back in the Bronx.

Friday: Michael King vs. Michael Wacha

It’s a battle of the Mikes for this Friday night showdown. The Yankees recently announced that they were optioning Albert Abreu to the alternate site, but without a corresponding move. King would be the logical call-up as Friday conveniently coincides with the fulfillment of the minimum ten-day option window after he himself had been sent to the alternate site.

King was mighty impressive in his lone appearance of the season, coming on in long relief of an ineffective Domingo Germán against the Blue Jays. He turned in six strong shutout innings of one-hit, one-walk, three-strikeout work, alleviating some of the fears of his inability to make it more than once through a lineup.

The Yankees will be relieved to see his opponent Michael Wacha, who gave up three runs in four innings of relief in the Bombers’ 8-4 victory last series. The Rays brought back the righty as part of their cobbled-together budget plan to replace the outgoing Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, and so far he has pitched how one would expect a bargain-bin pickup to perform. He has given up seven earned runs in nine innings, and dating back to last year with the Mets, he carries a 6.70 ERA coming into this matchup.

Saturday: Jordan Montgomery vs. Tyler Glasnow

The Yankees will need an outing reminiscent of Montgomery’s first start (six shutout innings, no walks and seven strikeouts) and not his second (five innings and four earned runs including two homers) if they are going to have any chance of combatting the Rays ace. To do this, he will need to find the strike zone and establish a rhythm early, something that he proved unable to do against the Rays in his last start.

The Rays send their ace to the mound, and I’m not sure the Yankees have ever faced a Tyler Glasnow as good as the one dominating opposition lineups in the early going. He has already established himself as one of the likely candidates for the AL Cy Young, as he enters this game with a 0.46 ERA and 29 strikeouts against only three walks, with an absurd 39 percent whiff rate. To make matters worse, on top of his 100 mph fastball and knee-buckling curveball, he added a hybrid cutter/slider that may already be his best pitch.

Sunday: Gerrit Cole vs. Ryan Yarbrough

The Sunday afternoon series finale may be the Yankees’ best chance to neutralize the Rays lineup, as their own ace takes the mound. Gerrit Cole has been truly brilliant through his first three starts, and would have an easy case as the best pitcher in baseball if it weren’t for a certain Jacob deGrom. In 18.1 innings, Cole boasts 29 strikeouts against only three walks and three earned runs. If he can replicate his 13 strikeout gem against the Orioles, the Yankees will have a real shot of winning this game.

While staff ace and flamethrower Glasnow goes Saturday, the Rays will send out his polar opposite in the rotation to face Cole. Ryan Yarbrough is a prototypical junk-ball thrower — his fastball averages only 86 mph — which will be quite the change of pace from the heat the Yankees will have faced 24 hours prior. He is one of the premier soft-contact pitchers in the game, ranking in the 98th percentile or better in average exit velocity and hard hit rate over the previous two seasons. That being said, he has struggled a bit to start the season, having given up six earned runs in each of his prior two outings, so perhaps the Yankees lineup is facing him at the right time.