5 things to watch as Yankees face Rays in three-game series at Tropicana Field

Aug 2, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) reacts during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 2, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Gerrit Cole (45) reacts during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports / © Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Here are five things to watch as the Yankees take on the Rays in St. Petersburg this weekend…

Can Aaron Judge stay hot?

Since he returned from the toe injury, Judge hasn’t been quite himself at the plate. However, this past week against the Nationals and Red Sox has shown the baseball world why he is the reigning AL MVP.

Over his last six games, Judge is 6-for-24 (.250) with six home runs and 10 RBI. In his last two games alone, Judge has hit four home runs and driven in seven runs.

His 28 home runs has him fifth in the American League and he’s missed 72 games. He was on pace to approach the 62 home runs he hit last season before the injury. We’ll see if he can continue to rise up the ranks in the short time the team has left this year.

Can Gerrit Cole bounce back?

Cole was the front-runner for the AL Cy Young award this season but he took a big hit in his last start.

Last Saturday against the Red Sox, Cole had his worst start of the season, going just four innings while giving up six runs.

He’s had one similar start this season (June 25 against Texas) where he gave up three runs in 4.2 innings. The start after that he bounced back nicely by going six innings and giving up just two runs against the Cardinals. Can he do that again?

Cole is Friday’s probable starter and the Rays are a tough team and it’ll be difficult to navigate their lineup, but Cole has faced them three times already this year. In those three starts, Cole has gone at least five innings.

His first start (May 12) he gave up five earned runs. Five days later, he went five innings again, but this time gave up just two earned runs.

And finally, his last start against Tampa (Aug. 2) he spun seven two-run innings to pick up the win.

If Cole has his eyes on his first Cy Young award, he needs to finish strong and Friday could go a long way towards that.

Aug 24, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Everson Pereira (80) reacts after hitting a double against the Washington Nationals during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. The hit was the first of his major league career.

Aug 24, 2023; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Everson Pereira (80) reacts after hitting a double against the Washington Nationals during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. The hit was the first of his major league career. / Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Let the kids play

One of the biggest news items of the week was the promotion of OF Everson Pereira and the return of Oswald Peraza to the big leagues.

While neither have torn the leather off the ball since their call ups, it’s good that manager Aaron Boone and the rest of the organization seem dedicated to giving them time to figure it out.

In three games since his call up, Peraza is just 1-for-11 with one walk, one stolen base and two runs. He’s also been hit-or-miss playing third base.

As for Pereira, the outfielder is 1-for-11 with his first major league hit coming in Thursday’s loss. He also has one walk, one RBI and one run. He’s also struck out five times.

It’ll be interesting to see how both adapt to their second series and if they make adjustments.

Can Carlos Rodon build on his last start?

Rodon has been largely a disappointment in his first season with the Yankees.

While most of it is due to the injury that took him out for half the year, the lefty hasn’t really been the co-ace behind Cole.

In seven starts, Rodon is 1-4 with a 6.27 ERA. He’s also struck out just 26 batters in 33 innings pitched. However, Rodon had his best start in pinstripes his last time out.

On Aug. 22 against the Nationals, Rodon went six innings for the first time all season while giving up just one run on one hit. He struck out just one batter, though, so his swing-and-miss stuff that made him a hot commodity this offseason has not shown up just yet.

Can Rodon have back-to-back quality starts? He’s faced the Rays once this season back on Aug. 1. He went just four innings while giving up four runs so he doesn’t have a good track record, but perhaps returning from his latest stint on the IL has changed him.

Are we in the midst of a Giancarlo Stanton power surge?

Like many of the Yankees this season, Stanton has had a disappointing one at the plate, but Thursday may have snapped the slugger out of his year-long slump.

Stanton went 4-for-5 with a home run in Thursday’s loss to raise his average from .193 to .204. It was the former MVP’s first multi-hit game since Aug. 11 (vs. Marlins) and it was his first home run since Aug. 9 (vs. White Sox).

The 33-year-old is notorious for going on insane home-run binges and the series finale against the Nationals could be the start of another.

Stanton does have moderate success at Tropicana Field. In 41 games, Stanton is 34-for-152 (.224) with five home runs and 10 doubles.

While the season is all but lost, a strong finish for Stanton could go a long way for the slugger.

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