While the Tampa Bay Rays are hoping to continue a surge that will lead them into next week’s American League wild-card game, the New York Yankees are tuning up for the playoffs while chasing home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
The AL East foes hope to keep fulfilling those objectives Tuesday night when the Rays host the Yankees in the opener of a two-game series in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Tampa Bay (93-64) trails the Oakland A’s by 1 1/2 games for the first wild card and leads the Cleveland Indians by a half-game for the second wild card.
“We just got to win,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “If we win, good things will come our way.”
The Rays are facing the Yankees for the first time since July 18 in New York. Since that last meeting, Tampa Bay is 37-21.
The Rays are 17-6 dating back to Aug. 29 after taking three of four from the Boston Red Sox. Tampa Bay concluded the series with a 7-4 victory Monday when Ji-Man Choi, Brandon Lowe and Willy Adames homered in a six-run fourth inning, wiping out Boston’s 4-0 lead.
“That’s kind of the story of this team. We got guys who are going to fight back no matter what the deficit is,” Rays reliever Colin Poche said. “We’re going to take it day by day, but if we got to come back and every game, that’s what we’ll do.
New York (102-55) clinched its first division title since 2012 on Thursday and enters Tuesday one-half game behind the Houston Astros in the race for the majors’ best record.
New York has won 12 of its past 18 games after taking two of three from the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend in its final home series. The Yankees raised their season total to 298 homers when Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu and Brett Gardner homered in an 8-3 win Sunday.
After the game, manager Aaron Boone announced the Yankees likely will use a three-man rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Luis Severino in the postseason with veterans CC Sabathia and J.A. Happ serving as relievers.
The Yankees will use openers against Tampa Bay. Sabathia will pitch in relief at some point Tuesday while Happ will do the same Wednesday.
Using Sabathia and Happ in those roles to audition for the postseason will be part of Boone’s plan for the week along with resting players and still securing home field.
“It’s just striking that balance is what I would say,” Boone said. “We’re going to rest guys here and there, but we’re going to kind of go for it, and we want to go win a ballgame Tuesday night, and that’s about as far as I look at it in that regard.”
Tampa Bay’s Yonny Chirinos (9-5, 3.67 ERA) gets the call Tuesday, make his second appearance and first start since returning from missing more than a month due to inflammation in his right middle finger. He returned Saturday and allowed a homer to Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts in the fourth inning while throwing 16 pitches in Tampa Bay’s 5-4, 11-inning win.
Chirinos is 6-5 with a 3.55 ERA in 17 starts this season and 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA in five appearances (three starts) against the Yankees. He last faced the Yankees on July 18, when he allowed five runs, four earned, in five innings and was the opposing starter when Boone was ejected by rookie umpire Brennan Miller during his viral “savages in the box” rant.
Chirinos is 2-3 with a 3.62 ERA in seven career appearances (four starts) against New York.
The Yankees did not announce who will open the game, but it could be Chad Green (4-4, 4.36 ERA), who is 0-1 with a 3.93 ERA in 14 appearances as an opener. Green is 1-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 20 career outings (two starts) against Tampa Bay. He threw 31 pitches as the opener against the Rays in a 5-1 win in the second game of the July 18 doubleheader.
—Field Level Media