A recent hot streak has moved the Rays to the top of the American League East, but they will face a big test starting Monday with a four-game series in New York against the Yankees.
The Rays have defeated the Yankees six of nine times this season and have two series victories against their division rival. Tampa Bay's recent 11-game winning streak kicked off with a 9-1 victory over New York on May 13. The Rays have won 15 of 16 games after Sunday's 6-2 win over the Phillies at Tropicana Field.
There is always drama surrounding games between these two AL East juggernauts.
“I love it. I love New York," said Rays left-hander Rich Hill, who is scheduled to start Monday's series opener. "I love everything that goes along with big markets, being able to play in every big market for however long a time or however short a time, and understanding that it's just a passionate fan base and it's a great place to play. It's always special, going to New York, just the history and everything that goes along with it. However, with that said, you still want to go out there and come out of there with a win."
Since the start of the 2019 season, the Rays have 21 wins (against 17 losses) and a .553 winning percentage against the Yankees, each mark the best in baseball. In addition, they defeated the Yanks in a tense five-game AL Division Series in 2020.
Offense heating up
The biggest reason for the Rays’ hot streak is their resurgent offense. Since the beginning of May, they lead the Majors with 157 runs and rank among MLB's best in doubles (51), homers (39), walks (117) and on-base percentage (.339).
“As our pitching goes, we go. That's kind of how we’re built, and the offense is doing their thing right now," manager Kevin Cash said. "The way we came out and got so hot for that stretch ... most teams don't sustain that over a course of a season, but what you can sustain is having quality at-bats, getting on base and putting pressure on the defense, and putting the ball in play when it's needed most. And that’s what we've been doing.”
Over their 15-1 stretch, three players have begun to heat up -- Randy Arozarena, Austin Meadows and Mike Zunino. The Rays have hit 28 homers during that stretch; Zunino has five of those, and Meadows and Arozarena have three each. Zunino added to his total Sunday with his team-leading 12th of the season.
“The team [has] come together really well," Cash said. "All facets of our club seem to be performing at the right time. We’re getting the timely hits, we’re making the plays behind the pitcher and the pitchers are making the big pitches when they're needed most.”
Another reason for this impressive run has been the return of fan favorite Ji-Man Choi. He made his first appearance of the season on May 16 after recovering from right knee surgery and went 3-for-4 in a 7-1 win over the Mets. Choi has been on fire and was a big factor in Saturday's win, when he hit an RBI single into center field to give the Rays some much-needed cushion. Choi added an RBI double on Sunday and is batting .342/.479/.605.
Probables for the Bronx
On Monday afternoon, the Rays will send Hill to the mound against Yankees right-hander Jameson Taillon. Hill is 3-2 with a 3.63 ERA through 10 starts.
“[I] just will go out there and give my best effort and do everything that I can to put us in the best possible position to win, and that's it,” said Hill.
Hill has been on fire in his past four starts, going 2-2 with a 1.26 ERA and a .134 opponents' average.
“Obviously it's a big game against the Yankees," Hill said. "I played in every division in this league, and this is the toughest division in baseball. It's a grinder, and every team you're playing, one through nine, has guys that can leave the ballpark as far as hitting home runs.”