ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Rays are 6-7 since the All-Star break and steady starting pitching has been a major part of the turnaround for a team that had lost 24 of 27 games at one point.
"Everything is going well for our starters -- just consistent outings back-to-back-to-back," said Friday's winner, Jake Odorizzi, who pitched six-plus innings of shutout baseball in the Rays' 5-1 win over the New York Yankees.
"It really takes the stress off the bullpen. I think another thing is our defense is playing phenomenal. They're really backing us up and it's a lot easier to pitch when you have great plays being made behind you."
The Rays (40-61) have allowed more than four runs just once in 13 games since the All-Star break. At one point in June, they gave up at least five runs in 13 straight games, so they're at the opposite end of the spectrum.
"We've played that way since the break," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "I know we don't have the wins to support that, but we're playing tighter ballgames, our pitching has been tremendous and the timely hits, hopefully they continue to come."
As both teams move another day closer to the trade deadlines and teams around them continue to make moves, the Rays must decide if they're dealing starters like Odorizzi and Matt Moore.
Meanwhile, the Yankees -- having already dealt away closer Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs -- must decide how much talent they are willing to part with while they linger on the fringe of wild-card contention.
Asked if the trade deadline -- and the thin line between seller and buyer -- changes his approach to these games, Yankees manager Joe Girardi was adamant his focus is unchanged on putting his team in position to win games.
"Zero," he said of how he allows the deadline to impact his decisions as a manager. "You try to win every game, no matter what the situation is."
On Saturday, the Yankees will send RHP Nathan Eovaldi (9-6, 4.80 ERA) against Rays LHP Drew Smyly (2-11, 5.42). The Yankees have lost back-to-back games after a stretch that saw them win eight of 10. They went into Friday night with a chance to match their season high of four games above .500.
Just as the Tampa Bay pitching has stepped up, New York has struggled in its last two games, giving up a combined nine runs after holding opponents to 10 in the previous five games. Nova gave up two home runs Friday to the first three batters, literally trailing from his third pitch of the night on.
By the time the Rays-Yankees series ends, the trade deadline will arrive and both teams will have a better sense for whether their path to the end of this season is easier or harder, depending on how active they are at the deadline.