Monday, July 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Playoff chase heats up for Rays with key series at Yankees up first (w/ video)

ST. PETERSBURG

It was important that Evan Longoria crushed a two-run homer in the sixth inning Wednesday and Steven Souza Jr. blasted a solo shot off the farthest catwalk an inning later.

It was important that the Rays' offense added on in the eighth inning, Alex Cobb turned in another sterling outing and the bullpen did its thing.

It was important that the Rays beat the Orioles 5-1 during a getaway-day matinee at Tropicana Field because it is about to get real.

"We needed to win this game, really salvage the homestand," Cobb said, "and going into the biggest series of the season, hands down, against New York, we needed that momentum."

The biggest series of the season.

The Rays and Yankees, separated by a game in the standings as both chase the first-place Red Sox in the American League East and both jockey for a wild card spot, begin a four-game series tonight at Yankee Stadium.

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"It's going to be a lot of fun playing in Yankee Stadium with them right in front of us," Souza said. "I can't wait."

And after Sunday's series finale in New York, the Rays fly to Houston to face the Astros on Monday in the first game of another four-game set. Oh, and the Astros have the best record in the AL.

It could be an eight-game road trip that affects the Rays' postseason chances, especially with the trade deadline set for 4 p.m. Monday.

"I love it," Souza said. "I think this whole team loves challenges. I think we've stepped up to the plate when we've been challenged and rose to the occasion. (The Yankees are a) really good ballclub, and we can't wait to get on the road and play these guys."

The Rays (53-49) have won two straight on the heels of a five-game losing streak.

The Yankees (53-46) have won three in a row, including six of their past eight. The Yankees have won five of the nine meetings with the Rays this season, including all three in the Bronx.

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The series begins with Chris Archer versus CC Sabathia.

"It's huge," Archer said. "We're going to display what type of team we really are. We're going to play top-tier teams. I think with how we're playing this year, we're ready for the situation. (I'm) really looking forward to it."

The rain clouds that formed over the Rays during their five-game losing streak and brought gusts of doubt disappeared during back-to-back wins against the Orioles.

Longoria said this is the time of the season when the pressure of winning or losing begins to intensify.

"When you're right there and you drop a few games, it weighs on you a little more than it does in April," he said. "To come back and get these last two games, win the series, was important."

The Rays still have issues. Corey Dickerson is not hitting, and Logan Morrison snapped an 0-for-15 slump with an RBI single in the eighth inning. The bullpen can use another experienced arm, and the offense could use another experienced right-handed bat.

MOONEY'S TAKEAWAYS: Staff writer Roger Mooney's takeaways from the Rays' win over the Orioles.

Time will tell what the weekend will bring in terms of help through trades, but the Rays have a chance to help themselves by playing one team they are chasing.

"It's going to be fun," Longoria said. "Going on the road and playing teams in first place or in playoff contention is fun. I feel like this team is really built for that. We play well on the road, and it seems like when we go and play tough teams, we're able to rise to the occasion.

"This will be pretty indicative of what type of team we are and definitely get a feel for how we can play under pressure."

     
           
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