Weekend Preview: Rays vs. Yankees

Following another woeful series loss against the Blue Jays, the Yankees welcome the rival Rays to the Bronx this weekend. Both teams are struggling for consistency behind the surging 1st place Red Sox. With starters announced, or alluded to in Friday’s case, let’s preview the probable pitching matchups and scrutinize the erratic offenses for both teams.

Friday Pitching Matchup: Michael Wacha vs. Michael King

With off days bookending the weekend series, Aaron Boone has decided to give his regular starters an extra day’s rest. But after optioning Domingo German to the alternate site on Sunday, the Yankees need an arm to open the weekend series. Before Wednesday’s game, The Athletic’s Lindsay Adler got an idea of whom they might be:

But during the Wednesday’s walk-off loss, word came from Scranton that Deivi Garcia was starting at the alternate site against the alt-Phillies. Garcia ended up throwing 4.2 innings and 76 pitches. So it seems the Yankees may lean on Michael King as the starter or bulk man in a bullpen game.

In a pitching conundrum following a slew injuries, the Rays might look to Michael Wacha for his 2nd start to begin the weekend. The longtime Cardinal came on in relief of MLB debutant Brent Honeywell Jr. in last Saturday’s loss to the Yankees, allowing 3 earned over 4 innings, including a 453ft. HR to Gio Urshela.

Saturday Matchup: Tyler Glasnow vs. Jordan Montgomery

Looking to bounce back from allowing 2 HR in 5 IP against the Rays on Sunday, Jordan Montgomery will toe the rubber in the middle game of this weekend series. Monty’s command faltered in his second start, walking two and hitting Austin Meadows twice. The Rays showed discipline, working the count and swinging at ~30% less pitches out of the zone and ~10% less strikes. However, the lefty’s BAbip was 36 points lower compared to his first start. Weak contact must be the name of the game for Jordan Montgomery to find success.

Per the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin, the Rays will look to their ace, Tyler Glasnow, on Saturday. Coming into the weekend, the righty looks dominant, striking out 29 in 19.2 innings with a MLB 5th best 0.55 WHIP spread over three starts. He earned his first win on Monday against the Rangers, tossing 7.2 innings of shutout ball with a career-high 14Ks.

However, in 2020 against the Yankees, including two playoff starts, Glasnow held a 5.40 ERA and a K/BB of 2.83.  Both numbers are worse than his splits against the rest of his opponents (5.04 ERA and 3.63 K/BB). Still, the Yankees lineup will have their work cut out for them against the 2021 incarnation of Tyler Glasnow.

Sunday Matchup: Ryan Yarbrough vs. Gerrit Cole

The final matchup of the weekend looks set to be Ryan Yarbrough against Yankees ace, Gerrit Cole. There’s not much that needs to be said about Cole. Even when he doesn’t have his best command, as in the early going on Monday’s victory, Cole still finds a way to outfox batters and quell threats. The baseball purist in me would’ve loved to see an aces matchup of Glasnow vs. Cole, but alas, we’ll have to wait until later in the season for that.

Instead, the Yankees look likely to come up against Yarbrough. The former opener and bulk reliever is now a starter for the Rays. Following his strong first start against the Marlins on April 2nd, Yarbrough took the loss on his next two appearances, suffering a 9.82 ERA and .419 BAbip.

As Rays Manager Kevin Cash said Topkin’s article earlier, the Rays haven’t settled on their pitching plan for the weekend. But the Yankees will need to capitalize on anyone not named Tyler Glasnow if they want a shot at winning their second series in 2021.

Offensive Worries on Both Sides

Going into the weekend, there are plenty of questions surrounding the Yankees lineup. They’re hitting into double plays at a AL-topping pace and hold a below league average .278 BAbip. WFAN’s Sweeny Murti put it together succinctly for the stat heads on Twitter:

With seemingly more ground balls and surprisingly less strikeouts, the Yankees just aren’t making good contact. While it’s an epidemic across the team, the easy scapegoats are Jay Bruce and Giancarlo Stanton. Both of them created a combined 4 runs so far this season, and aren’t pulling their weight. It’s something for which Stanton may be able to earn a pass, but inexcusable for Bruce. The Yankees may look to the alternate site options of Mike Ford or Chris Gittens sooner rather than later.

While Yankees fans are frustrated, perhaps justifiably angry with the lineup’s performance, Rays fans have almost had it worse. Tampa Bay’s run differential is 24 points lower than the Yankees prior to Thursday evening’s game against the Rangers. Their offense sits in the bottom third of the MLB at 3.83 R/game. When combined with their pitching giving up 5.67 RA/game, tied for 2nd in the MLB, it’s not a recipe for wins.

Final Thoughts

This weekend series will be a real litmus test for both AL East rivals. The Red Sox 9-game winning streak ended at the hands of the Twins Thursday afternoon in walk-off fashion. Both the Yankees and Rays will look to gain ground on the unexpected 1st place Sox, but will need to shake off their early April woes to have any hope.

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