Yankees @ Rays: Gerrit Cole vs. Shane McClanahan

Before we get to tonight’s preview, let’s do a quick two-sentence recap of this past weekend’s action in Toronto:

Any time you blow an 8-3 lead, it’s a missed opportunity. Yet two out of three from a good team – and make no mistake, the Jays are legit – is a good weekend.

Moving on. Tonight the Yanks are in the Sunshine State for the first game of a three-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays. There isn’t too much to talk about as the two teams met just last week when the Yanks swept the Rays in a three-game series in the Bronx. But we are set for a prime-time pitching matchup this evening as two of the game’s best are set to square off.

Gerrit Cole will get the ball for the Yanks while the Rays will counter with Shane McClanahan. McClanahan – somewhat absurdly – leads all MLB pitchers in xFIP, SIERA, and K-BB% while Cole has been slacking as he ranks third, fourth and fourth in those respective categories league-wide.

The Yanks saw McClanahan’s last start when he threw six innings in an eventual 4-3 Yankees win. McClanahan’s final line was deceiving as he only allowed one earned run over those six innings while allowing only five baserunners. Yet when we recall the subtext, even though he didn’t get much help from the Rays fielders, he also hurt his own cause.

After a first-inning long ball from Aaron Judge gave the Yankees a one-run lead, the Bombers had a runner on third and two out against McClanahan in the fifth with Isiah Kiner-Falefa at the plate. McClanahan inexplicably fell behind 3-0 to IKF who was sporting a robust (sarcasm) 87 wRC+ at the time, causing Rays’ manager Kevin Cash to issue an intentional walk to Kiner-Falefa.

Falling behind 3-0 and eventually walking a hitter with an 87 wRC+ is inexcusable when you’re arguably the best pitcher in baseball. The only thing that’s worse would be allowing a three-run home run to a batter with 44 wRC+ – which is exactly what happened when Kyle Higashioka stepped in next and went yard. The three runs were unearned as a Brett Philips error put the first runner on base, but McClanahan had every chance to get out of the inning and couldn’t do it. The Yanks’ pitching wasn’t perfect that night but they did keep the Rays in the park, leading to the 4-3 win.

Meanwhile, Cole’s coming off another great outing last Tuesday against these same Rays. Over six scoreless innings the Yanks’ “Top Gun” struck out seven batters against only one free pass, finishing with a Game Score of 68 in an eventual 2-0 win.

Currently, the Rays are 36-30 and stand in third place in the AL East with a 72 percent chance to reach the postseason. Yet, due to plenty of injuries and a recent cold streak, they’re only one-half game ahead of the Red Sox for fourth place in the division, and Baseball Reference’s SRS (based on run differential and schedule strength) has Boston ranked as the better team. All games and series count but for the Rays, they’re getting very important very quickly – expect them to act accordingly.

The first pitch from the mausoleum known as the Trop will be at 7:10. You can watch it on YES, stream it on MLB.tv and listen on WFAN 101.9/660. As always, follow me @mybaseballpage1 on Twitter and the “My Baseball Page” on Facebook for more boyish charm.

Time to start another winning streak.

Tonight’s lineup:

LeMahieu 3B
Judge CF
Rizzo 1B
Stanton RF
Torres 2B
Donaldson DH
Hicks LF
Trevino C
Gonzalez SS

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