Yankees vs. Rays: Prediction, how to watch and things to know as the top two teams in the AL East meet in New York

This week at Yankee Stadium, the first place New York Yankees and second place Tampa Bay Rays meet for an important three-game series. Only a half-game separates the two teams in the AL East.

Here are the division standings coming into Monday:

  1. New York Yankees: 43-27
  2. Tampa Bay Rays: 43-28 (1/2 GB)
  3. Boston Red Sox: 39-34 (5 1/2 GB)
  4. Toronto Blue Jays: 26-45 (17 1/2 GB)
  5. Baltimore Orioles: 21-50 (22 1/2 GB)

The Yankees and Rays are both 2-3 in their last five games and 5-5 in their last 10 games. Neither has played their best baseball lately. Here are the pitching matchups for this week's three-game series in the Bronx. All three games can be streamed via fuboTV (Try for free).

DateStart TimeStarting PitchersTV

Mon., June 17

7 p.m. ET

RHP Masahiro Tanaka (4-5, 3.55 ERA) vs. RHP Yonny Chirinos (7-2, 2.88 ERA)

YES, Fox Sports Sun, MLBN

Tue., June 18

7 p.m. ET

LHP J.A. Happ (6-3, 4.63 ERA) vs. TBA

YES, Fox Sports Sun

Wed., June 19

1 p.m. ET

LHP CC Sabathia (3-4, 4.42 ERA) vs. LHP Blake Snell (4-5, 3.70 ERA)

YES, Fox Sports Sun, MLBN

Lefty Ryan Yarbrough (5-3, 5.59 ERA) lines up to start Tuesday's game for the Rays, though they could use an opener and bring Yarbrough out of the bullpen. Righty Ryne Stanek (0-1, 2.54 ERA) is the logical candidate to open Tuesday's game, pending Tampa's bullpen usage Monday. Either way, it'll be an exciting three games at Yankee Stadium.

"It's always a hostile environment over there. Those fans, they let you know what they feel, trust me. But it's also a great thing quieting that crowd anytime you can," Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier told the Associated Press on Sunday. "Their fans are going to know that we're head-and-head with their guys. It's going to be an electric atmosphere, and we look forward to playing in that."

Here is what you need to know heading into this week's battle of AL East supremacy at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees have the season series edge

Two times previously the Yankees and Rays have played this season, and both times the Yankees won two of the three games. Here's the season series recap:

At Tropicana Field

At Yankee Stadium

The Yankees have the season series edge this year, and, going back to last season, they've won seven of their last ten games against the Rays. Also, the Rays are 7-19 in their last 26 games at Yankee Stadium dating back to 2016. What does that mean for this week? Nothing, really. It's a new set of games and anything can happen.

There is some bad blood here

It dates back to their final meeting last season, when Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge threw behind the head of Yankees catcher Austin Romine. Sabathia plunked Jesus Sucre as retaliation, which earned him a five-game suspension.

The bad blood has carried over to this season. There have been five hit batters (three Yankees and two Rays) in the six head-to-head games, plus several near misses on both sides. Here's what Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters, including George King of the New York Post, following some fireworks last month:

"We have had a lot of guys hit, see your brothers get knocked around you don't like it,'' said Boone, who watched Gary Sanchez get hit by a Chirinos breaking ball two batters after (Luke) Voit was drilled. "Obviously, we saw Gleyber (Torres) [Friday] night and Voit tonight. That's part of the game but you worry about your dudes.''  

Benches have not cleared between the Yankees and Rays at any point during this current beanball war. Because they continue throwing at each other, there could be a benches clearing incident at any point. These two clubs don't like each other. Not at all.

The Yankees have help coming

A lot of help at that. Edwin Encarnacion, who was acquired from the Mariners over the weekend, is set to join the Yankees for Monday night's series opener with Tampa. He's going to take over as the team's regular DH. Encarnacion is currently hitting .241/.356/.531 with an American League leading 21 homers. That will be a significant addition to the lineup.

Furthermore, Giancarlo Stanton is expected to return Tuesday night. He's been out with various injuries (biceps, shoulder, calf) since the third game of the regular season. Stanton hit four homers in five minor league rehab games, including this titanic blast against Tampa Bay's Triple-A team over the weekend:

Aaron Judge is currently on a rehab assignment as well, though he is still several days away. He won't be back this series. Stanton will be though, and Encarnacion is due to arrive Monday. The Yankees are about to add two very big power bats to their lineup, and the timing couldn't be worst for the Rays.

"Fits in well. He's obviously a great hitter. Has been for a long time and continues to be," Boone told reporters, including NJ.com's Brendan Kuty, about Encarnacion. "Obviously, he'll probably become the primary DH but he's played a lot of (first base) and we feel like he's very capable over there as well. Just looking forward to adding him, just adding some more length to the lineup. Not just a feared hitter but a really, really good hitter." 

The middle of Tampa Bay's lineup is red hot

The Yankees are adding some firepower to their lineup this week. The Rays already have serious firepower in their lineup, and their primary middle of the order hitters have been tearing the cover off the ball lately. Here are some numbers over the last 15 days:


PAAVG/OBP/SLG2BHRRBIBB%K%

Ji-Man Choi

41

.378/.439/.649

1

3

7

9.8%

19.5%

Yandy Diaz

68

.431/.500/.508

3

2

9

10.3%

13.2%

Brandon Lowe

45

.375/.444/.775

2

4

9

4.4%

26.7%

Choi, Diaz, and Lowe typically hit in the top six spots of Tampa Bay's lineup along with Avisail Garcia, Austin Meadows, and Tommy Pham. The exact order depends on matchups, among other things, but those are generally the top six names in the lineup. And, right now, the trio in the table are as hot as it gets. They will be a handful for New York's pitching staff.

The Red Sox will be interested observers

Very quietly, the Red Sox have won five straight games and climbed to within 5 1/2 games of the AL East lead. It is the closest they've been to first place since May 23 and they are feeling good right now.

The Red Sox have to handle their own business this week. They're going to Minnesota to play three games against a very good Twins team. You can be sure they'll take the occasional glance at the out-of-town scoreboard though. The Yankees and Rays beating up on each other is good news for Boston. As long as the Red Sox do what they're supposed to do, they know they'll gain ground on someone in the division.

The Yankees and Rays will see each other again soon

They're division rivals, so of course the Yankees and Rays will see a lot of each other this season. The next few weeks will take it to the extreme though. The Yankees will play 11 of their next 25 games against the Rays. For the Rays, it's 11 of their next 27 games against the Yankees. Here's their head-to-head schedule:

  • June 17-19 at Yankee Stadium (three games)
  • July 4-7 at Tropicana Field (four games)
  • July 15-18 at Yankee Stadium (four games)

After that, the Yankees and Rays will not face each other again until a quick little two-game set at Tropicana Field in September, in the second-to-last series of the regular season. Remember when I said there's some bad blood? With three very important series in such a short period of time, tensions will be high, and things could spill over.

Prediction

It only makes sense to wrap up a series preview piece with a prediction, right? Right. Here is goes: Yankees win two of three. They've won two of three each time they've faced the Rays this year, so might as well go with that again. The bet here is Tanaka outduels the underrated Chirinos on Monday night, then the Rays hammer Happ on Tuesday night, and Sabathia records his 250th career win in the series finale Wednesday. It has been foretold.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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