Sometimes, the clinching win is the hardest one. While the New York Yankees are still in a good playoff position — with two regular-season games left, they have a one-game lead over the Boston Red Sox and two-game lead over both the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays for the first American League Wild-Card spot — they had a rough Friday night and things are much more up in the air on Saturday than they were the day before.
New York dropped its series opener to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday by a score of 4-3. The Yankees got a solid start from Nestor Cortés Jr. but couldn’t do much offensively until the ninth inning, when they scored twice and had runners on first and second with one out. However, Rougned Odor and Gary Sánchez both struck out against Andrew Kittredge to end the rally.
To make matters worse, the Red Sox and Blue Jays each won to pick up a game on the Yankees. The Mariners lost a heartbreaker to the Los Angeles Angels, so they dropped out of their tie with Boston for the second Wild Card spot and now are all square with Toronto.
The Rays will look to keep playing spoiler with impressive rookie Shane Baz on the mound against the Yankees’ Jordan Montgomery. First pitch from the Bronx is at 1:05 p.m. ET. The BetUS Sportsbook has the Yankees as -127 moneyline favorites and as +150 favorites on the runline. The Rays are +117 moneyline underdogs and -170 underdogs on the runline. Current MLB lines have the over/under at 8½ runs.
Tampa Bay Trusts Baz
Even though he has made just two Major League starts, Baz is already looking like one of the Rays’ postseason starters. Since debuting on Sept. 20 against the Blue Jays, he has pitched 10.2 innings and only allowed five hits, two runs, and one walk while striking out 14 batters. Of course, it’s a small sample size but Baz has been a highly touted prospect for awhile and if there’s anything we know about the Rays, it’s that most of their decisions work out for them in the end.
The Yankees are tough but so is Baz. The question is how long he’ll be allowed to pitch for. Tampa Bay limited fellow rookie Shane McClanahan to three innings and 43 pitches on Friday night in preparation for him likely starting Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday which could be a sign that Baz will also be on a strict pitch/inning count as well. Baz is primed to start Game 2 of the ALDS on Friday so he would have five full days of rest before his name is called again.
If you’re betting online, don’t rely on that information to side with the Yankees. New York would like to see Baz leave early but it’s not like it has been easy for the Yankees — or any other team for that matter — to do much against Tampa’s bullpen. Even the Rays’ lower-leverage guys, such as Louis Head and Matt Wisler, have remarkably low ERAs and strike a bunch of guys out. Basically anyone coming out of the Tampa Bay ‘pen is electric.
Montgomery Approaching Career-High Innings
Montgomery has been huge for the Yankees’ rotation all season as a steadying force every five days. He has a career-best 3.49 ERA and has stayed healthy mostly from the get-go. His peripheral numbers are also pretty good across the board, and he has only given 16 home runs. A potential concern, though, is that he has already thrown 154.2 innings, which is just short of a career-high and is by far the most he has pitched since his rookie season in 2017.
If he is fatigued, he hasn’t shown it lately, as he allowed one run or fewer in each of his last three starts and in nine out of his last 11 starts. Still, it’s definitely something to consider not only in how effective he may be on Saturday but also with regards to how the Yankees treat him during this start and going forward should they make a postseason run. They could have him on a pitch count.
The MLB lines clearly like the matchup for the Yankees with Montgomery on the mound, and it certainly is true that the Yankees are the team with the sense of urgency to clinch their postseason spot. But, the Rays relish beating New York and won’t lie down in this series, which they made clear on Friday.
Rays Won’t Be Resting Position Players
Usually, a team that has already secured its postseason berth, home-field advantage, and matchup will take things very easy as the regular season winds down, giving starters plenty of rest and turning down the intensity level all the way down in preparation for the playoffs. Sometimes, though, teams like to keep routines intact so as to not throw players out of whack during the long break from the regular season to postseason.
The Rays seem to fit into the latter category, as they are still using their regular players so they can stay in the groove they’ve been in all season as they get ready to play later into October. It also helps Tampa Bay — and hurts the Yankees — that the Rays are a deep team that is always shuffling guys into and out of the lineup based on matchups or platoon advantages, so it’s not easy for them to even rest guys like most other teams.
That’s why, in terms of MLB picks, the Rays’ moneyline — and the juice — is the move today. Tampa Bay doesn’t have anything in terms of playoff positioning to play for, but the Rays are one win shy of their first 100-win season in franchise history, which definitely is a source of pride for that team. They won’t forfeit these games to a Yankees team they have no love lost for so you might as well take the value instead of hoping for a multi-run New York win on the runline or taking a bath on the Yankees’ moneyline.