Why this trip to face Yankees is so important to Rays

Four-game series is best, and pretty much last, chance for Rays to cut directly into the Yankees’ lead and get some revenge.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, right, pulls starting pitcher Blake Snell from the game during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, right, pulls starting pitcher Blake Snell from the game during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Published July 15, 2019|Updated July 15, 2019

BALTIMORE — The decision for the Rays to take a train to New York after Sunday’s game was made well in advance and out of convenience not circumstance, but the symbolism was worth noting:

This is very much a business trip.

The Rays trail the Yankees by six games in the AL East, and the four-game series that starts Monday night is their best, and pretty much last, chance to trim that lead themselves. After Thursday, the Rays don’t face the Yankees again until a two-game set at the Trop the final week of the season, Sept. 24-25. And with a bad showing this week, they could be too far back to make that matter.

“These are a big four games," centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. “We’re going to try to close that gap on them. They’ve been playing great baseball all year and obviously we’ve had our trouble with them this whole year."

That’s clear, as they Rays have lost nine of 13 overall – being outscored 72-39 -and are just 1-5 in New York.

“We know it’s important," said Blake Snell, who starts Monday’s series opener. “We know we’ve got to come out hot and ready to go. We know how difficult they are to beat at home."

“I don’t think we need to go into the mentality of going in and pressing, but there’s definitely some form of a sense of urgency," said infielder Joey Wendle. “I think there should be, and that’s appropriate. At the same time, we have to stick with what got us to this point as a team."

The Rays have played the Yankees tough at the Trop, including winning the last two of the four-game series before the break, but have been struggling for a while in New York, losing 14 of their last 15 series under the bright lights.

“First of all, the trouble is because they’re a really good team," manager Kevin Cash said, also noting the Rays youth. “Besides that, it’s a different atmosphere. We found a way to overcome that a little bit last year. We’ve got to get back to doing that.

“Every ballgame it seems like we’re in, but you can’t just be in them, you’ve got to find ways to win them. We’ve got to do a better job of that this coming series."

Not only is there a huge swing in the division race at stake, given how the Rays by Thursday could be two out or 10 out, but also their strategy for the July 31 trade deadline.

“Any opportunity to make the postseason is precious and we’re going to treat it accordingly," senior VP Chaim Bloom said. “The more the division is in play, I think the more motivated we’ll be to get really aggressive."

Snell game

Snell had arguably the worst start of his career his last outing at Yankee Stadium on June 19, getting only one out and charged with six runs, and overall is 1-5, 6.34 in 10 starts there. But he says he is confident going into Monday’s game, having been pitching better recently and learned from mistakes of that last outing in New York. “A lot of that game was self-inflicted,’’ he said. “I wasn’t ready to go as much as I should have been. I was ready but there’s things I could have done better … and that was the frustrating part.’’ He said that included game prep, planning, and not remaining aggressive when he first got into trouble.’’

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McKay down, tough decisions coming

Rookie lefty Brendan McKay was sent back to Durham as required after serving as the 26th man for Saturday’s doubleheader and delivering a third strong start. McKay could be back to start again as soon as this weekend vs. the White Sox, as the 10-day minimum stay in the minors isn’t reset by the 26th man stint. … With Brandon Lowe and Matt Duffy both potentially coming off the injured list soon, the Rays will have some difficult decisions as rookies Nate Lowe and Mike Brosseau are playing well. Cash said Nate Lowe “has certainly done some things that are pushing the envelope,” but also noted the need to get Ji-Man Choi going. "Probably some foreseeable tough decisions coming down here soon,’’ Cash said. … Righty Jake Faria was sent down to make room for lefty Ryan Yarbrough’s impressive return.


* Infielder Matt Duffy (hamstring) continues to feel good on rehab and is closing in on rejoining the Rays. He will stay with Triple-A Durham at least to start the week as the Rays want him to get 25-30 at-bats; he’s at 21.

* Lefty Anthony Banda, recovering well from June 2018 Tommy John surgery, took his rehab to Triple A and threw three solid innings, allowing two hits.

* Austin Meadows’ homer was the 101st in Camden Yards history to land on Eutaw Street beyond the rightfield fence, measured at 419 feet.

* Righty Tyler Glasnow, out since mid-May with a forearm strain, is scheduled for an MRI and doctor visit Monday that should determine if he can resume throwing with hopes of a late season return.

* The Rays hit a team-record tying six homers in Saturday night’s 12-4 win, the first time they did so in more than 10 years, since May 7, 2009.