Major League Baseball

Rays, Yankees seek strong first half finish

YANKEES (57-30) AT RAYS (51-39)
1:10 p.m. ET; FS-SUN, YES, TBS, MLB.TV

One loss decided by struggles with runners in scoring position and a game-ending hit will hardly dampen an extremely successful first half for the New York Yankees.

Meanwhile, an ability to limit big hits by a potent lineup and produce a dramatic win is something the Tampa Bay Rays hope to see more of.

The Yankees and Rays will conclude the first half Sunday afternoon in the finale of a four-game series between the top two teams in the AL East in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Yankees lead the season series 9-3 and have won each of the first three series between the teams, whose first three games of this series were decided in the last at-bat.

After the Yankees began the series by scoring five times in the 10th inning Thursday and four times in the 11th Friday, the Rays snapped a six-game losing streak to New York with Saturday’s 4-3 victory.

Travis d’Arnaud hit the game-winning homer in the ninth off Chad Green, after Colin Poche allowed a two-strike, game-tying homer to Aaron Hicks with two outs in the top half of the inning.

“Good to see the guys respond,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “It’s been a trying couple of weeks. It’s been a trying homestand. It’s been a trying series.”

The Yankees enter their final game before the All-Star break leading the American League at 57-30. They are 16-3 in their last 19 games and have homered in 35 of their last 36 games.

“We’re out here trying to win a baseball game every night, trying to win a championship,” New York left-hander CC Sabathia said. “That’s the main focus.”

Tampa Bay heads into its final game before the break 7 1/2 games behind the Yankees. The Rays were 43-28 after beating the Los Angeles Angels on June 16 but are 8-11 since and have dropped seven games in the standings.

If the Rays can start a hot streak, they likely will do it without Jose Alvarado for a few weeks.

The left-hander strained his right oblique throwing a pitch to Gary Sanchez in the eighth inning Saturday. Cash said Alvarado was headed for an MRI Sunday and will be out for an extended period.

James Paxton (5-3, 4.09 ERA) will end the first half of his first year with New York by starting Sunday. Paxton is 2-1 with a 5.23 ERA in his last seven starts since returning from missing four weeks with left knee inflammation.

Paxton last pitched Tuesday in a 4-2 loss to the New York Mets and allowed one run on eight hits in six innings. It was the second time since returning Paxton completed six innings.

He is facing the Rays for the first time as a Yankee. He is 3-0 with a 3.32 ERA in three career starts against Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton (9-2, 2.36), who leads the AL in ERA, will attempt to reach double-digit wins for the third straight season and fourth time overall.

He rebounded nicely from losing two of his previous three starts by allowing one run on four hits in seven innings Tuesday against Baltimore. Morton struck out 12, including six straight at one point, and finished the game by fanning 10 over his last four innings.

The right-hander is 2-1 with a 4.45 ERA in five career starts against the Yankees, including a no-decision on May 19 when he allowed five runs (three earned) on four hits and four walks in four innings.

–Field Level Media

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