The Yankees won their first five meetings with the Rays this season by a combined margin of 31-10 before losing Sunday, and they’re back again for a weekend series at Tropicana Field, having won seven of eight overall after a sweep of the Mariners.
New York has been dominant for many reasons, but a strong bullpen is certainly one of them, with a collective ERA of 2.86, second only to Houston among American League teams. Part of that has been solid starting pitching requiring less use of relievers. The Yankees’ relievers have thrown close to 70 innings fewer than the Rays have in grinding out a 3.73 ERA in a league-high workload.
“They’ve been terrific,” manager Aaron Boone said of New York’s relievers. “They protect each other, because many guys have stepped up. … It’s a big reason. We’re built in a lot of ways around that great bullpen. They continue to deliver.”
The Rays (34-40) have lost five of seven and have sorely missed that continuity in their starting rotation, continuing to rely on relievers working as “openers” on patchwork bullpen days. Such will be the case in Friday’s opener, with right-hander Ryne Stanek (1-1, 2.21 ERA) getting the ball first
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, but expected to go little more than the first inning.
Stanek has pitched exceptionally well in that role, however. In eight June appearances, he has an 0.00 ERA in 10 2/3 innings, having allowed only three hits with 12 strikeouts against three walks. Until their recent skid, the Rays had continued to hover around .500 baseball despite trading away major parts of last year’s team in exchange for prospects.
Stanek started last Saturday’s game against the Yankees, and allowed one hit and no runs in 1 1/3 innings in a game New York won 4-1. He has faced the Yankees five times in his career, inclding that one start, and is 0-0 with a 2.08 ERA over 4 1/3 innings.
The Rays got one key player back after missing two months with injury in center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, whose defense is among the league’s best. His bat has yet to come around this season, though. He is 0-for-9 in two games since returning from the disabled list, lowering his season average to .135.
“He’s fine. He’ll get going,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Unfortunately
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, KK got off to a rough start. Those numbers are going to be ugly for a little while, but I’m confident he’ll get going … I’m very confident.”
The Rays will face a familiar face Friday in Yankees starter C.C. Sabathia, who is 4-2 this season with a 3.30 ERA, with one of those two losses coming Sunday against the Rays in New York. Sabathia pitched into the eighth but gave up a season-high 10 hits, allowing three runs in a 3-1 loss while striking out a season-high 10 batters and walking only one.
Sabathia has faced the Rays 46 times in his career, and no opponent has more wins against him than the Rays — he’s 16-15 all-time, with a 3.76 ERA.
New York goes into the series with a considerable head of steam. They’re 17-4 in their last 21 games, putting them on pace to challenge the best starts by any team at this stage in the season.
MILWAUKEE — Jorge Polanco is expected to make his season debut Monday night when the Minnesota Twins open a two-game interleague series against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.
Polanco will be reinstated Monday from his 80-game suspension for use of performance-enhancing drugs after going 6-for-13 in four games with Triple-A Rochester.
He batted .256 with 13 home runs, 30 doubles in 133 games last year and was especially strong in the second half, slashing .293/.359/.511 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs.
That performance moved him into the No. 3 spot in the Twins’ lineup, but manager Paul Molitor said he probably won’t bat that high right away upon his return.
“We know what he did last year when he had a chance to move up into a pretty important role,” Molitor told reporters Sunday in Chicago. “I don’t know we’ll jump him up there that fast. For us to see him is going to be different than hearing about him and reading about him and texting him and all those kinds of things.
Right-hander Kyle Gibson (2-6) starts for Minnesota. He posted a 2.45 ERA through his first four June starts but saw that number grow to 3.35 after allowing five runs in seven innings to the Chicago White Sox his last time out.
Gibson struck out seven in the game and walked just one but gave up a season-high 11 hits.
“I went back and looked at some of the hits I gave up,” Gibson said. “I don’t know if I just picked the wrong pitch at the wrong time or what. I executed quite a few pitches there, and they found holes.”
The Twins dropped a three-game weekend series to the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and have lost eight of their last 10 overall.
Milwaukee struggled during the weekend, too, dropping the last two of a four-game series at Cincinnati. The Brewers managed just five total runs in those losses while allowing 20, including a grand slam in each one.
“Two runs, three runs … You’re going to need more to win most games,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
Despite that showing, the Brewers will return home still leading the National League Central by a half-game over the Cubs, who will be idle Monday.
Brent Suter (8-5) gets the nod in the series opener. He’ll be looking to get back on track after his three-game winning streak was snapped last week by the Kansas City Royals.
Suter overcame a somewhat slow start to the season and has turned into a solid starter in the last two months. He’s 6-2 with a 3.50 ERA in his last eight starts. Before his outing against Kansas City
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, he hadn’t allowed more than three runs in his previous seven games.
Part of Suter’s success can be attributed to his pace, which is among the game’s fastest. That makes it difficult for hitters to settle in between pitches and, Suter admits, there can be a slight advantage to working quickly.
“I don’t want to quick-pitch people; I don’t do that,” he said. “But I want to keep the tempo up and let my fielders get back in and hit as quickly as possible. That’s how I operate. If that gets them uncomfortable, that’s fine, but I’m just in attack mode and up-tempo.”
Suter is 1-0 with a 3.72 ERA in two career starts against the Twins, both of which came at Target Field. He held them to a run and five hits while striking out six in 5 2/3 innings on May 18.
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