ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Rays’ role in the final month of the season has been the Official Spoiler of American League Hopefuls, and that continues Tuesday as the Yankees come to Tropicana Field for a three-game series.
The Yankees are still in postseason contention, four games back in the wild-card chase with 13 games to play, this despite a horrendous four-game sweep at Boston over the weekend. In all, they’ve lost seven of eight games, a slump that started against the Rays last week, when they were just one game out of the wild card.
"We could have won all four of the games here," manager Joe Girardi said of the sweep at Boston. "But we’re still playing the teams in front of us, some of them. We have to start over Tuesday."
The Rays (64-85) have long been out of any contention and firmly in last in the AL East, but they’ve managed to wreak havoc on the division — they went 5-6 on their recent road trip, the longest of the season, but in doing so, took two of three from Toronto and split a four-game series with Baltimore, putting the brakes on both teams’ postseason chases.
"We’re playing well," manager Kevin Cash said after Sunday’s loss. "We’re giving teams a good game all the way to the end. We’ve won some of them and we’ve lost a couple tough ones."
For the Yankees to make up four games in the final two weeks of the regular season in a deep logjam of potential wild cards, they’ll need sweeps against teams like the Rays.
And while Tuesday’s starters might look similar in their stats — Rays LHP Drew Smyly is 7-11 with a 4.98 ERA and Yankees RHP Michael Pineda is 6-11 with a 4.94 — their success against their current opponent is a much different matter.
Pineda is 0-3 against the Rays this season with a 9.31 ERA, his highest for any opponent in 2016. He’s given up 31 hits in 19 1/3 innings, including eight home runs, though four of those came in an 8-1 loss on April 24. The Rays are hitting .356 against him this season, and he hasn’t even made it through five innings in his last three starts, including a two-run effort against the Rays.
Smyly, on the other hand, is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA against the Yankees this season — that same April 24 game that was a low mark for Pineda saw Smyly hold the Yankees to one run in seven innings. He’s given up two runs in 13 innings this season against New York, and he’s improved overall since the All-Star break, though his season has been marked too often by no-decisions and losses.
The Rays wrap up their home schedule in the next week with three against the Yankees and three against the Red Sox, their last chance to make an impact on a division race they aren’t directly involved in.