The New York Yankees have been abysmal at the plate during a four-game losing streak.
Now they have to face baseball's best pitching staff since the All-Star break over the weekend.The Tampa Bay Rays have a chance to reach .500 for the first time since April 22 on Friday night when they open a three-game home set against the floundering Yankees.New York (61-58) moved a season-best seven games over .500 last Friday with a 10-6 win over Cleveland but hasn't won since. The Yankees dropped the final two games of that series and lost both games of a rain-shortened series in Baltimore this week to fall a season-worst eight games behind the first-place Orioles."We gotta go to Tampa and play really well and put this behind us," manager Joe Girardi said. "We've got to start winning series again. We have not won the last two series and we put ourselves in a little bit of a hole."The Yankees have totaled seven runs while batting .164 with 34 strikeouts during this slide."We gotta find ways to score runs but more importantly, we gotta find ways to win games," shortstop Derek Jeter said. "If you don't score runs, you gotta win other ways so we need to play better."New York is one defeat shy of its longest losing streak of the season June 28-July 2 -- a slide capped by a three-game sweep by the Rays.Tampa Bay (60-61) looks capable of administering another sweep this weekend thanks to a pitching staff that has posted a 2.17 ERA since the All-Star break. The Rays have set an AL record by allowing three runs or less in 18 straight road games, capping a 6-4 trip with Thursday's 6-3 win over Texas.Now Tampa Bay will begin a six-game homestand by trying to get to .500 for the first time since 20 games into the season."We've played really well and continue to battle even in the face of adversity so I think going back home, the crowd has been great there, we've played well at home and I think that should be enough (of a) spark for us to hopefully get on a nice little run here and make it interesting at the end," said slugger Evan Longoria, who homered and drove in three runs Thursday.Longoria has been among baseball's biggest disappointments with a .719 OPS but he's been productive against the Yankees this year, going 14 for 42 with six RBIs. Tampa Bay has taken four straight and seven of 10 meetings.Both teams start right-handers Friday.Tampa Bay's Alex Cobb (7-6, 3.41 ERA) is 5-0 with a 2.57 ERA in eight starts since losing to Pittsburgh on June 23. He's 4-0 with a 1.49 ERA in his last five starts against the Yankees.Brett Gardner, Jeter and Jacoby Ellsbury -- the usual top three hitters in New York's order -- are a combined 6 for 32 against Cobb.Brandon McCarthy (4-1, 2.21) seeks to recover from his first loss with New York after he gave up two runs over 6 1/3 innings Saturday in a 3-0 defeat to the Indians. He's 4-1 with a 2.65 ERA in nine starts against the Rays, limiting Longoria to two hits in 12 at-bats.Rays center fielder Desmond Jennings is expected to return Friday after missing two games with a sore shoulder.
With the win Friday, the Rays reached .500 for the first time since they were 10-10 on April 22nd. They're the fourth team in MLB history to reach .500 after being as many as 18 games under .500 in the same season.
Reached .500 After Being 18+ Games Under .500 - Single Season MLB History
*Source: Elias Sports Bureau
Brett Gardner has hit .301 since May 1 in at-bats to end in an offspeed pitch, 15th among 150 qualified hitters. Since the start of last season, Alex Cobb has thrown an MLB-high 34.1 percent changeups.