The Orioles have already hung around longer than most people thought when the 60-game season opened, but when it comes to crunch time in the AL East the Yankees and Rays are the betting favorites to fight it out for the title.
Having dropped three of four to the Rays at Tropicana Field earlier this month when the Yankees took exception to Rays hurlers pitching their hitters up and in throughout the weekend adds more flavor to a rivalry that has evolved into so much more than the Red Sox-Yankees.
So, away from Tropicana Field and at Yankee Stadium the Yankees get a chance to put some distance between themselves and the pesky Rays. The Yankees hold a 2 ½-game lead over the second-place Rays after beating the Red Sox, 6-3, Monday night at the Stadium.
Since the remaining six games against the Rays are in The Bronx it is imperative the Yankees don’t suffer the same fate they did in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“I thought we did a lot of things in that series pretty well. Even though we didn’t score a ton of runs outside of the one game we played I thought we gave ourselves a lot of opportunities and that is what you have to do against them,’’ Aaron Boone said Monday of his team that went 4-for-27 (.148) with runners in scoring position during the series. “Give yourself as many opportunities as you can because you know it is going to be challenging to score and score big against them but if we give ourselves opportunities and capitalize when we have those chances and to continue to pitch well against them then we will like our chances.’’
Not only will the Yankees be without Giancarlo Stanton, who hurt is hamstring running the bases against the Rays, Aaron Judge and DJ LeMahieu also will miss the series.
Masahiro Tanaka, who threw five shutout innings in a 1-0 loss to the Rays on Aug. 7, draws the first game. Blake Snell goes for the Rays.
“Obviously they are a very good team and we need to beat them to get to where we want to get to,’’ Tanaka said. “Obviously that goes for every team around us but definitely they have become a good team. It’s an important series for us.’’
The Yankees will carefully watch the workload of Aroldis Chapman, as the gas-throwing lefty returns from the COVID-19 injured list but Boone made it clear he returns as the pitcher who will be asked to get the final three outs.
“He will be the closer. We will build him up slowly this first week as far as not have him do any back-to-backs and we will kind of monitor him this week,’’ Boone said. “A save situation [Monday night] he will be in there in the ninth.’’
Boone brought Chapman into the ninth inning with a four-run lead and was impressed with the first outing in which Chapman hit triple digits several times.
As for pitching in back-to-back outings, Chapman said the plan is for that to occur next week.
Zack Britton, who went 8-for-8 in save situations filling in for Chapman, will pitch in front of the Chapman which will add depth to a late-game pen that has Adam Ottavino and Chad Green, who have pitched very well.
Boone didn’t have Gio Urshela in Monday night’s lineup against Red Sox lefty Martin Perez but it was only to give the third baseman a rest. Boone started Thairo Estrada at third and Miguel Andujar in left.
“I told Miggy [Sunday] night that we were going with him in left field. It was a close decision for me,’’ said Boone, who didn’t start left-handed hitting outfielders Brett Gardner and Mike Tauchman. “I just felt like in this stretch getting [Tauchman] a day now and wanting to get Thairo in there it just worked out that way.’’
Andujar made his fifth start in left field compared to one at third base where he has much more experience. Estrada, who homered, started his first game this season.
Andujar turned the wrong way on Alex Verdugo’s fly ball in the sixth that bounced on the warning track and into the seats for an RBI ground-rule double. Boone inserted Tauchman into left in the seventh but said it had more to do with Tauchman being an elite outfielder and not Andujar failing to catch what Boone said would have been a tough play for a veteran left fielder.
Tyler Wade at second base was the only left-handed hitter in Boone’s lineup.
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