The Rays were able to skate on by the last time they faced the Yankees.
Tampa Bay swept New York over three games between April 16 and 18, outscoring their American League East rival, 18-7, in the Bronx. The Yankees didn’t score more than three runs in a game that weekend, and the finale dropped them to 5-10 on the season.
New York had already lost two out of three to the Blue Jays and the Rays in the series prior to that. The last-pace team was being rightly ridiculed for a stretch of play that looked just as ugly as the record.
These days, the Yankees are playing cleaner baseball. They just wrapped up a 7-2 homestand with back-to-back walk-off wins over the Nationals and their 18-16 (.529) record puts them second in the division, just ahead of Tampa Bay and 3.5 back of Boston. The Bombers haven’t been perfect, but they’re getting more from their lineup and starting pitching than they were at the very start of the season.
“We’re continuing to play better,” Aaron Boone said Sunday. “It goes back now a couple weeks. I keep saying I don’t think we’re all the way there. Certainly, offensively, I know there’s more in there for us and we’re gonna find our stride, but there’s no question we’re, in every aspect of the game, playing a lot better baseball.”
The improved performance comes just as the Yankees are set to begin a new series with their favorite heel on Tuesday night. New York will start a 10-game road trip with three games against the Rays at Tropicana Field, a litmus test for a hot team before matchups with the Orioles and Rangers.
Tampa Bay is 16-6 against New York since the start of last season, including its victorious 2020 ALDS battle. The narrative has become that the Rays have the Yankees’ number. It’s one the visiting team is looking to change this week.
“We need to go in there and play good baseball and go get a series down in Tampa,” Giancarlo Stanton said. “It hasn’t been in our favor against them lately, so we need to change that.”
The Rays are coming off a West Coast trip in which they swept the Angels in four games before dropping two of three to the A’s. They closed the trek out with a win, however, improving their record to 19-17 (.528). They actually have a losing mark (7-10) at home this year, but their pitching, which has been better at The Trop, has limited the Yankees to a .168 average and a .552 OPS in their six meetings this season.
Of course, they haven’t faced the Yankees with Luke Voit yet this year. That’s expected to change this week. However, the first baseman’s return adds to New York’s right-handedness, which hasn’t always played well against a Rays staff loaded with righties.
Nonetheless, the Yankees are in a far better place for this rendition of the rivalry, one that’s featured plenty of tension between the two teams but mostly one-side results lately.
They’ve played well recently. Now they need to continue to do so against a frequent thorn in their side.
“It’s a really good team,” Boone said after acknowledging Tampa Bay has beaten his squad up over the last year or so. “They’re obviously very good at preventing runs. They’ve got versatility in their lineup. They’re a challenge and you’ve got to play well if you’re going to beat them.
“Hopefully, we can start to turn that table a little bit.”
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