Last Tuesday, the Yankees started off a 13-game stretch against the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, and Houston Astros, a stretch that was considered by many to be the first major test that the Bronx Bombers would face. Well, they could hardly have gotten off to a better start to that stretch, as they swept the Rays at Yankee Stadium and took two of three from the Jays in Toronto. Thanks to these two series, they hold an 11-game lead in the American League East.
We’re barely halfway through this tough stretch, however, as they head to Tampa Bay for a three-game set against the Rays at Tropicana Field. While the Trop has been a bit of a house of horrors for the Yankees in recent years, they have a golden opportunity to turn the tables on their division rivals — if the Yankees can take three of four, they can effectively bury the Rays in the AL East. Of course, this is the Rays, and this is the Trop, so that’s easier said than done.
Let’s take a look at the pitching matchups for this week’s games:
Monday: Gerrit Cole vs. Shane McClanahan (7:10 pm ET)
Gerrit Cole makes his second straight start opening a series against the Tampa Bay Rays. After his seven-run disaster against the Minnesota Twins on June 9th, the right-hander bounced back strong, allowing just five hits and striking out seven across six shutout innings en route to a Yankees 2-0 victory. Believe it or not, this will actually be Cole’s third start against Tampa Bay in just over three weeks, as he also faced them on May 28th in the Trop — that afternoon, he kept them to just one run on two hits across six innings, striking out 10.
Shane McClanahan gets the nod for the Rays in the series opener, also making his second consecutive start against the Bombers. The Tampa Bay ace was the victim of extraordinarily bad defense last week, as he was tagged with the loss despite allowing just one unearned run on three hits thanks to three unearned runs in the fifth inning (although he did give up a home run to Kyle Higashioka, so it wasn’t all on his defense). Earlier in the year, he had limited the Yankees to just one run despite allowing seven hits.
Tuesday: Nestor Cortes vs. TBD (7:10 pm ET)
Although the Yankees haven’t officially announced it at time of writing, based on the team’s recent tendencies, it seems likely that Nestor Cortes will start the second game of the series on Tuesday night. Nasty Nestor has been more than electric against the Rays this year, throwing eight scoreless innings against them back on May 26th (although he does get one earned run in the box score, as he allowed a single to the leadoff batter in the ninth before being pulled). He wasn’t quite as lights out last Wednesday — he allowed three hits and walked three batters while striking out just four in 5.1 innings of one-run ball — but truth be told, the fact that this performance was considered a step down from the rest of his season shows just how good Cortes has been this year.
At this point in time, the Rays have yet to announce a starter for Tuesday’s game. Considering this is the Rays we’re talking about, a bullpen game is always a possibility.
Wednesday: TBD vs. Shane Baz (7:10 pm ET)
Once again, the Yankees haven’t officially announced it, but at time of writing, Jordan Montgomery looks to be the most likely Yankee starter to get the ball for Wednesday’s series finale. Unlike the other two starters in this series, Montgomery did not go against the Rays in his last outing, but instead had the first game of the series in Toronto. For the most part, he largely kept the potent Blue Jays bats quiet, allowing just two runs on three hits in six innings, striking out five and walking one. This will be Monty’s first start of the year against the Rays, despite the fact that the two teams played each other seven times in 21 days (including a four-game set!) — his starts simply never lined up against them.
The Yankees will get their first look of the season against Rays top prospect Shane Baz, who will be making his third start of the season. After opening the season on the 60-day IL because he underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery at the end of March, Baz made his season debut against the potent Minnesota Twins offense on June 11th. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Minnesota’s bats lit him up for five runs in 2.1 innings. He bounced back big the following week against Baltimore, shoving across six shutout innings in which he struck out seven and walked only two.