When the New York Yankees struggled in their first seven home games against the Tampa Bay Rays, they hardly resembled a team that would be in command of the wild-card race.
The Yankees dropped five of their first seven home meetings with Tampa Bay but now are in control of the first wild-card spot and look to keep solidifying their positioning Friday night when they host the Rays.
New York (91-68) heads into the series with a two-game lead over the Boston Red Sox and Seattle Mariners. The Yankees are 8-1 in their past nine after losing 15 of 22 and capped a 5-1 road trip with a 6-2 win at Toronto on Thursday when Aaron Judge homered twice.
“We went out there, we played some tough opponents and some big meaningful games,” Judge said. “It wasn’t a postseason game, but it definitely had the atmosphere and feel and everything that goes into a postseason game. So to go out and do what we did on the road in some tough places is just all-around a great job.”
It is hardly the same way they played earlier this year at home against the team who eliminated them in the playoffs last season. In the first series, the Yankees were swept as part of a 6-11 start, and May 31-June 3 they split four games with Tampa Bay as part of a 3-10 skid.
Tampa Bay (98-61) has clinched the American League’s top record and is 6-3 in its past nine. The Rays head to New York after taking a 3-2 loss at Houston on Thursday.
It was a night that saw Wander Franco’s 43-game on-base streak ended. Franco went 0-for-4 to end his run, which tied Hall of Famer Frank Robinson in 1956 for the longest streak in MLB history among players 20 or younger.
The Rays lead the season series 9-7 and, even though the postseason is secured for them, they are looking forward to potentially spoiling things for the Yankees.
“There’s going to be pressure on them,” Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “You get a team rival like us and the history — we haven’t played them in a while — and I’m just looking forward to a fun-filled, playoff-atmosphere weekend to really get our juices flowing before the real thing starts.”
New York’s Nestor Cortes (2-2, 2.85 ERA) will make his 14th start and is 2-2 with a 3.01 ERA as a starting pitcher this year. The left-hander has taken a no-decision in five straight starts, including Saturday in Boston when he allowed two runs and four hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Cortes started against the Rays in Tampa Bay on July 28, when he allowed one run on three hits in five innings of New York’s 3-1 victory. He does not have a decision and owns a 4.41 ERA in six career appearances (one start) against the Rays.
Shane McLanahan (10-6, 3.44), who leads Tampa Bay’s traditional starters in wins, goes for the Rays on Friday. The left-hander last pitched on Saturday, when he allowed one run on six hits in five innings and got the win over the Miami Marlins.
McClanahan is 8-4 with a 2.98 ERA in his past 15 starts and 7-3 with a 2.83 ERA in 11 starts since the All-Star break.
He is 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA (seven earned runs in 9 1/3 innings) in two career starts against the Yankees, including his lone start at Yankee Stadium on June 2, when he allowed a career-high-tying four runs in 3 1/3 innings.
–Field Level Media