New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays game preview

Strong performances from the bullpen have vaulted the New York Yankees to the top of the AL East. Equally impressive play from the starting staff could keep them there.

On tap following a historic outing, CC Sabathia takes the mound for the Yankees on Monday night to kick off a four-game road set against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Sabathia (0-5, 5.45 ERA) will have a difficult time replicating Sunday’s outing from teammate Michael Pineda, who recorded 16 strikeouts in seven innings against Baltimore – tied for second-most in team history and matching an MLB record for a pitcher with seven or fewer innings of work.

Sabathia hasn’t even had 16 strikeouts over his last four starts. He has only 14, four of which came in his fifth loss Wednesday when he allowed nine hits and four runs in a 5-1 defeat at Toronto.

The stout left-hander ranks among the worst pitchers in baseball with 11.13 hits allowed per nine innings. He has also received very little offensive support – just nine runs through six starts – contributing to a career-worst nine-start winless streak dating to last season.

"He’s pitched well enough to win in two or three games," manager Joe Girardi said. "We just haven’t scored a lot of runs."

New York’s offense fared well Sunday behind Pineda. Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran homered, while Jacoby Ellsbury and Didi Gregorius each drove in two runs in a 6-2 victory.

They’ll look for a similar showing against Alex Colome (2-0, 1.80), who has been solid through eight career starts but snapped a three-start scoreless streak with two runs allowed in Wednesday’s win over Boston.

He owns a 0.94 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .186 average over his last five starts and hasn’t surrendered an earned run in 11 career innings against New York (20-12).

The Rays (17-15), three games behind New York in the division, enter Monday’s matchup following a four-game split with Texas. They scored 15 runs to win the first two games before dropping the series finale 2-1 on Sunday.

"We just missed the big hits, but we put together some good at-bats," manager Kevin Cash said.

Tampa Bay’s bullpen put in plenty of quality work in the series, pitching 15 1-3 innings while allowing just one run.

It was a performance characteristic of the back-end of New York’s bullpen – Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller – who have yet to allow an earned run in 35 combined innings.

Tampa Bay has dropped five of six meetings with the Yankees this season, including a three-game sweep at home April 17-19. Alex Rodriguez went 4 for 10 with two home runs and six runs scored during that series, and Brett Gardner scored four runs with three steals.

Evan Longoria has been quiet against New York this season, going 4 for 22, but could break out considering his track record against Sabathia. He has owned the lefty in his career, going 24 for 58 (.414) with six home runs, eight doubles, 14 RBIs and a 1.390 OPS.