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New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays: Series preview

The rival Rays come to the Bronx for a big three-game set.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees are in danger of losing touch in the AL East. After building an early lead, the Yankees’ seven-game losing streak allowed the Rays to launch past them, and they now sit 3.5 games back of first in the division. Seeding matters little in this year’s 16-team playoff format, but it’s still disheartening to see Tampa surge ahead.

If the Yankees want to stay in the division race, they’ll need to parlay a strong finish in their series with the Mets into a strong series against the Rays this week. Tampa Bay has looked like one of the most solid teams in the league in recent weeks, combining a quality lineup top to bottom with their trademark high level run prevention. It’ll be no easy task to take two of three from them.

Let’s take a look at the pitching matchups. The Rays haven’t listed official starters for games two and three of this series, so we’ll have to do a little guesswork on who they’re likely to throw out.

Monday: Gerrit Cole vs. Tyler Glasnow

The first matchup of the series is a doozy, Cole, one of the best pitchers on the planet, up against Glasnow, who has some of the very best stuff on the planet. Both hurlers began their careers with the Pirates, and only fully unlocked their potential after being traded to teams with stronger track records of developing pitchers.

Cole is coming off his first bad start as a Yankee, as the Braves tagged him for five runs in five innings, including three homers. The long ball has been Cole’s undoing at times with the Yankees, as he’s allowed at least one in each start. His strikeout-to-walk ratio, at 53-to-8, remains sparkling, and the Yankees will hope his start in Atlanta was nothing but a blip.

Glasnow has had an uneven year, posting a 5.14 ERA in 28 innings. He dominated in his last start, however, striking out 13 against one walk in seven innings of two-run ball against the Orioles. That’s the kind of start Glasnow is liable to make every time out.

The right-hander is almost strictly a two-pitch pitcher. He throws a four-seamer that sits at 97 mph, and a devastating hook that ranks in the 93rd percentile in terms of spin rate, per Statcast. The highest batting average opposing hitters have ever managed in a season against Glasnow’s curve is .236. In 41 at-bats ending with the curve this year, Glasnow has held batters to a .105 average and .237 slugging.

Tuesday: Masahiro Tanaka vs. TBD

Tanaka is lined up to start game two. He is hopefully settling in as the Yankees’ most dependable starter this year. Tanaka looked excellent his last time out, tossing five shutout innings, and he’s only turned in one poor outing in five tries this season.

We’ve discussed Tanaka’s fastball usage a few times this year at the site, but it’s notable that his four-seamer usage hit its season low in his most recent start. Instead, Tanaka leaned heavily on his slider, to great effect. The slider has long been one of Tanaka’s most effective pitches, so keep an eye out to see if he continues to make that the focal point of his repertoire going forward.

Trevor Richards lines up to start this one, though there’s no guarantee who exactly Tampa will go with. Richards has started twice this year, and has otherwise been used as something of a bulk reliever. The right-hander owns a 3.50 ERA in 18 innings, with 14 strikeouts against eight walks.

Wednesday: Jordan Montgomery vs. TBD

Montgomery looked to be having a great start his last time out against the Mets, holding them to one run across five innings and needing just 64 pitches to do so. Of course, that game ended in ugly, as Montgomery slipped in the sixth inning, and Chad Green came on to let the Mets take the lead.

On the season, Montgomery sports a 4.44 ERA in 24.1 innings, with 20 strikeouts against three walks. It’s a small sample in a season of small samples, but from the top level, this is mostly what was expected of the left-hander. He’s likely never to generate huge strikeout totals, but he’s done enough so far to keep the Yankees in games.

For the Rays, Ryan Yarbrough would have been in line to start, but he became the Rays’ 11th pitcher to hit the IL this weekend. Knowing Tampa, an opener could make sense for this game. Right-handed reliever Aaron Slegers made one start for the Rays a week ago and managed four shutout innings. Right-hander John Curtiss opened against the Rays on August 20th. Peter Fairbanks also could be an option to open.