The Tampa Bay Rays begin a three-game road series Tuesday night against a New York Yankees team that’s finally gotten on a roll. The Yankees have won seven out of their last 10 games and are now only 1.5 games behind the first-place Rays in the jammed AL East.
The Yankees handed reigning Cy Young winner Justin Verlander his third-straight loss on Sunday with a 5-1 decision to improve to 29-24. Meanwhile, the Rays took a three-game series over the sputtering Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field to improve to 31-23 heading into their challenging showdown at Yankee Stadium.
The Rays will pitch James Shields (6-3, 3.95 ERA) against Andy Pettitte (2-2, 3.49) Tuesday night at 7:05 p.m., followed Wednesday night with Alex Cobb (2-1, 3.71) against Ivan Nova (6-2, 5.60) and Thursday night with a battle of the league’s top lefties, David Price (7-3, 2.44) against CC Sabathia (7-2, 3.68).
The Rays swept the season-opening three-game series at Tropicana Field and then split two games at Yankee Stadium to lead the season series 4-2. They’re hoping for continued success from a pitching staff that has kept the team going lately. Price, in particular, has been going strong with an ERA of just 0.84 in his last three starts.
Tampa Bay’s offense has been another story, hitting only .201 in its 13 games before Sunday’s 8-4 victory over Baltimore. (The Orioles had entered the game tied for first but has now lost seven of nine games and tumbled to 30-24, a half game ahead of New York). One possible piece of good news for the Rays is that leadoff man and left fielder Desmond Jennings is expected to the lineup on Tuesday after spending the past month on the disabled list.
Jennings will be a welcome addition to a Rays team that has committed 46 errors (second most in the AL) and struggled to hit consistently and score runs. His ability to steal bases (eight stolen bases in 31 games) and cover lots of ground in the outfield could give the Rays a boost against the powerful Yankees.
This is the Rays last AL series before 15 games of interleague play against the NL East, beginning with a weekend series against tough intra-state rival Miami.