Yankees stumble into three-game set against Rays

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Before the season began, the late-August series between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, Fla., would have been viewed as a key showdown between contenders.

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Instead, as the three-game series takes place this weekend, only one of the two teams is in the playoff race.

The last-place Yankees arrive in the Tampa area, their Grapefruit League home, reeling from a recent nine-game losing streak, their worst since 1982, and a streak of terrible baseball, losing 10 of 11 games.

To be fair, all might not be lost — but that may only be the mantra of the most diehard fan draped in a pinstriped jersey with a 99 on the back.

Last season in the AL, the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay earned wild-card spots with 92, 90 and 86 wins, respectively.

Currently five games under .500, New York would have to win at a .714 clip (25-10) to reach 86 victories at season’s end.

That’s a tall order for a club that has come up short, especially in the campaign’s second half.

Since the All-Star break, the Yankees are 12-24 following a 6-5 loss against the Washington Nationals on Thursday. New York blew a 3-1 lead entering the seventh inning and lost two of three to the basement-dwelling visitors.

“It’s frustrating that you couldn’t finish it off, especially when you’ve got a lead and the back end of the bullpen’s coming,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “But we’ve got to move on. We’ve got a tough trip starting (Friday).”

Gerrit Cole (10-4, 3.03 ERA) will start the series opener for the Yankees. The right-hander is 1-2 with a 5.25 ERA in four outings this month.

Across 18 career starts against Tampa Bay, Cole is 3-7 with a 3.72 ERA, though the Rays have hit only .217 against him. In three starts vs. the Rays this year, he is 1-1 with a 4.76 ERA. He beat Tampa Bay on Aug. 2 in New York after throwing seven innings of two-run ball.

More recently, Tampa Bay’s offense has returned with a vengeance.

As the Rays have won six of their past seven contests, their bats have produced 62 runs (8.9 per game). Tampa Bay improved to 69-20 in games when it scores four or more runs.

Three straight wins over the Colorado Rockies this week — all after trailing at some point — gave manager Kevin Cash’s Rays their eighth series sweep of the season, their first sweep since early June.

“I’d rather just win without coming back — get the lead in the first and keep it the whole way,” said a chuckling Cash, whose squad is 13-7 in August and 43-22 overall at home. “You take wins however you can get them.

“Man, I hope there’s a lot of confidence in that room. They’ve put together a pretty good season, not just these last three games. But if we’re finding confidence from that, good.”

Rays right-hander Zach Eflin (13-7, 3.58) will take the mound for Tampa Bay on Friday. He is 2-1 with a 3.27 ERA in four August starts, including a 5-2 road win over the Yankees on Aug. 1, when he fired six shutout innings.

In four career starts against New York, Eflin is 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA, including 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two starts this year.

—Field Level Media

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