#967 New York Yankeesvs.#968 Tampa Bay Rays
Written by Matt Severance
New York Yankees (24-13, 23-14 O/U) at Tampa Bay Rays (21-22, 26-17 O/U)
When/Where: Friday, 7:10 p.m. ET, Tropicana Field
Moneylines: Yankees -122, Rays +112; total: 8
The Tampa Bay Rays have a minor advantage for Friday’s series opener against the New York Yankees as the Rays were off on Thursday, while the Yankees had to finish up a series in Kansas City on Thursday night and then hop a plane to Florida.
Here’s a statistic that should scare you. On Wednesday vs. the Royals, Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro went 3-for-4 and the 27-year-old Castro passed the 1,200-hit mark. He has more hits now than Derek Jeter did through age 27 (1,201 to 1,199). Castro is having a fine season. As of this writing, he is hitting .351 and believes he could win the batting title. “I think I can do it,” Castro said, who ended Wednesday’s game trailing Seattle’s Jean Segura, who leads the American League at .359. “I know the talent I have.” Pitchers might stop throwing him a fastball as Castro is slugging .597 off those compared to .420 in 2016. He is also controlling the lower half of the strike zone. The previous two seasons, he hit .276 on low pitches, but in 2017 is hitting .345 on them. Then again, Castro often gets off to a hot start. When the weather warms he tends to cool down. In June and July, he is a career .256 hitter.
Luis Severino (2-2, 3.86) is on the mound for the Bombers. The 23-year-old has been excellent at times this year and wildly inconsistent at others. It was the latter last Sunday as Severino lasted only 2.1 innings and allowed three runs, six hits and three walks. His offense bailed him out of a loss. Severino and Joe Girardi blamed some of his problems on what they considered a tough strike zone by home plate umpire Gabe Morales. “I thought the strike zone was a little tight,” Girardi said. “He had to work really hard the first two innings and it caught up with him. It cost him.” It took Severino 26 pitches to get through the first and 22 more in the second before he was pulled with just one out in the third. Severino’s first win of the year was April 13 vs. Tampa Bay, allowing two runs and five hits over seven innings with a season-high 11 strikeouts.
Last year, second baseman Brad Miller had a breakout power season for the Rays in hitting by far a career-high 30 homers. In his previous three seasons, all with Seattle, Miller had 29 dingers. Well, this year Miller is hitting just .205 with two homers and he’s now on the DL. Miller was running to first base on his third hit of Monday night when he felt “something tweak” in his lower abdomen. He hadn’t played since. “I thought it would be all right, but I woke up (Tuesday) morning and I was pretty stiff,” Miller said. “I came and did all my treatment and I just couldn’t go.” Rookie Daniel Robertson has been playing second. To add some middle-infield help in case Miller is out a while, the team acquired Michael Martinez from the Cleveland Indians. Martinez was designated for assignment by Cleveland on Sunday. The veteran utilityman is a .200 career hitter in 592 major league plate appearances.
The Rays start righty Erasmo Ramirez (2-0, 2.92), who has bounced back and forth from the bullpen. He moves back into the rotation with Blake Snell getting optioned to Triple-A Durham. Snell went 0-4 with a 4.71 ERA in eight starts this season. In those eight outings, he allowed 22 earned runs on 43 hits along with 25 walks in 42 innings. Ramirez has made 12 appearances this season, including one start when he picked up the win after going five innings on April 20 vs. Detroit. “He is a guy that has done it before,” Manager Kevin Cash said of Ramirez. “He has shown the ability to be really good at it. I think just with his track record, the versatility, we know he is going to get built up really quick and his arm is really resilient. It made the most sense.” Last time out, Ramirez shut out Boston over two innings. Against the Yankees this season, Ramirez doesn’t have a decision in three appearances spanning four innings with a 6.75 ERA.
This likely will be a bit of a bullpen game for the Rays as Ramirez probably won’t be good for more than five innings. Hard to know which Severino shows up. Opponents have managed to hit just .223 against Severino over seven starts. But the New York bullpen could be a bit taxed after Thursday’s game. I like the Rays. The Yanks are 0-5 in Severino’s past five on Friday.
Castro is 3-for-5 in his career off Ramirez. Jacoby Ellsbury is 3-for-11 with a homer. Chris Carter is 2-for-8 with a dinger. Aaron Judge is 1-for-3 with a homer. Evan Longoria is 3-for-14 off Severino with a homer and two RBIs. Corey Dickerson, who is really hitting well of late, is 3-for-5 with a homer. Steven Souza is 3-for-9 with an RBI. I don’t much trust either pitcher here.
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Matt has been a sports journalist for nearly two decades. He is a former sports editor/writer at two newspapers and a magazine. Went full-time freelance sports writer in 2008 -- not by choice then but became a life-changing decision in the best possible way. Consider myself expert on all major US sports. If you are looking for Curling or Badminton expertise, etc., I'm not your guy.