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New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Series Preview

A crucial stretch of seven divisional games starts with a four-game set against the Rays.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees - Game Two Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Yankees find themselves in a funk at the worst possible time. They’re coming off their worst series of the season after having been swept by the lowly Tigers, and are 1-5 in their last six. The bats went silent during that stretch, averaging only two runs per game against some middling-at-best Detroit pitching.

That’s bad news considering they’re about to face the Rays for four games — a team that has historically stifled the Yankees’ offense and is a remarkable 15-1 since May 13th. The defending AL champions have soared back to the top of the heap, passing Boston for the AL East lead and 4.5 games ahead of New York. The scuffling Yankee offense is a story for another day; for now let’s look at the expected pitching matchups for this big divisional showdown.

Monday: Jameson Taillon vs. Rich Hill

Taillon gets his tenth start in what’s been a mixed first season back from injury. On the one hand, he sits in the 71st percentile in strikeout and walk rate. One the other hand, he gives up almost two home runs per nine. He still has trouble finishing off at-bats once he gets to a two-strike count. It’s been strikeout or bust in those scenarios, which is why he finds himself in the bottom-third of starters in wOBA (.247) with two-strikes.

Encouragingly, Taillon is coming off his best outing of the year — five shutout innings of two-hit, two-walk, four-strikeout ball against the White Sox. For the season, he is 1-3 with a 5.06 ERA, 4.50 FIP, and 50 strikeouts in 42.2 innings.

The ageless Rich Hill will start the series opener, and that’s a terrifying prospect for the Yankees. Despite only averaging 89 mph on the fastball, the 41-year-old Hill made the Bombers look foolish in their last meeting, allowing just three hits in 6.2 shutout innings while striking out nine. He’s coming off an eight-inning, 13-strikeout gem against the Royals, and I wouldn’t put it past him to repeat the feat tomorrow night. In ten starts, he is 3-2 with a 3.63 ERA, 3.90 FIP, and 58 strikeouts in 52 innings.

Tuesday: Domingo Germán vs. Tyler Glasnow

Germán has been surprisingly effective to start the season and will make his tenth start. Now that Kluber is out injured, Germán is probably the team’s most reliable starter behind Cole. Despite allowing two runs or fewer in his last four starts, the home run continues to be an issue for Germán, and he has not struck out more than six in a game. On the year, he is 4-3 with a 3.06 ERA, 4.24 FIP, and 47 strikeouts in 50 innings.

Tyler Glasnow completes the one-two punch of terrifying Rays starters in the first half of the series. He has struck out at least ten in five of his last seven starts and holds a 30 percent or higher whiff rate on each of his three main pitches. Glasnow has started 11 games, holding a 2.57 ERA, 2.97 FIP, and an AL-leading 98 strikeouts in 70 innings.

Wednesday: Jordan Montgomery vs. Shane McClanahan

Here we’ll see a battle of lefties. The Yankees’ southpaw gets the ball for his 11th start of the year. Montgomery has had an up-and-down season, looking dominant in one start and then eminently hittable the next. He has three starts allowing one or fewer runs in six or more innings, with three more allowing at least three runs and failing to breach five innings.

He has pitched against the Rays three times already, allowing four runs in the first two outings and only one in the most recent. The Yankees will need a performance more resembling the latter. So far, Montgomery is 2-1 with a 4.22 ERA, 3.68 FIP, and 53 strikeouts in 53.1 innings.

He will square off against the one Rays starter who the Yankees haven’t faced yet this year. Shane McClanahan has long been one of the Rays’ top prospects, having been selected 31st overall in the 2018 MLB Draft. You may remember him from last postseason, when he made his major league debut against the Yankees in the ALDS. He made two appearances and gave up a two-run home run to Giancarlo Stanton in the bottom of the eighth of the Rays’ 8-4 Game Three victory.

McClanahan is mainly a two-pitch pitcher. His four-seam fastball sits 97-98 and tops out at 101, while his slider is a 90 mph demon pitch that induces whiffs almost 50 percent of the time. The one sliver lining is that he has averaged only four-and-a-half innings across his six starts, yet he still holds a 3.29 ERA, 2.97 FIP, and 32 strikeouts in 27.1 innings.

Thursday: Gerrit Cole vs. Ryan Yarbrough

Cole is the Yankees’ best chance to salvage something from this series, but even he has been less-than-sterling the last two weeks. Granted, I’m being nit-picky here considering he’s allowed one earned run in the preceding two starts, but given the tenuous state of the rest of the rotation, the Yankees frankly need their ace to be perfect in his starts. He has only reached double-digit strikeouts once this month, but it did come against the Rays last time they met. In 11 starts, Cole is 6-2 with a 1.78 ERA, 1.71 FIP, and 97 strikeouts in 70.2 innings.

Cole faces off against his polar opposite, as Ryan Yarbrough looks to close out the series for the Rays. The junk-baller tops out in the low-to-mid-eighties, but that didn’t stop him from limiting the Yankees to four hits total in his two appearances against them so far. Yarbrough has made ten appearances (six starts) this year and owns a 2-3 record with a 4.27 ERA, 4.46 FIP, and 39 strikeouts in 52.2 innings.