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Yankees playing better but hit the road, where they need to change narrative against Rays

Aaron Judge and the Yankees are looking to

Aaron Judge and the Yankees are looking to turn around their fortunes against the Tampa Bay Rays to start a 10-game road trip.   Credit: Getty Images/Julio Aguilar

The Yankees aced their most recent test when they went 7-2 on their longest homestand of the season.

After a day off Monday, the Yankees will face a stiffer test: a three-game series at Tampa Bay to open their longest road trip of 2021, a three-city, 10-game sojourn through St. Petersburg, Baltimore and Arlington.

It’s not just the prospect of sleeping in hotel beds for that long that has the Yankees’ attention. It’s the chance to get back at the Rays for winning five of six against them this season, including a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium last month, and for basically owning them in recent years.

The Yankees have lost 18 of their last 23 games against Tampa Bay dating to the 2019 season, including last year’s crushing ouster in the Division Series.

But the Yankees are playing better now, especially in the pitching department. Their offense is still scuffling, but they should get Luke Voit back — perhaps as soon as Tuesday — after he hit .389 with three home runs in a Triple-A rehab stint following March knee surgery.

Gio Urshela also is hopeful of returning Tuesday after missing three games with a sore left knee. The Yankees sent down Miguel Andujar after Sunday’s game, which suggests that both Voit and Urshela will be in Tuesday’s lineup as the Yankees try to get whole and get on a run.

"I just think we’re continuing to play better," manager Aaron Boone said Sunday after the Yankees’ second consecutive walk-off victory over Washington. "It goes back now a couple weeks. Again, I keep saying I don’t think we’re all the way there. Certainly, offensively, I know there’s more in there for us and we’re going to find our stride. But there’s no question we’re — in every aspect of the game — playing a lot better baseball, playing more winning baseball, and that’s what we’ve got to continue to build on."

Jordan Montgomery will open the series against Tampa Bay righthander Luis Patino. The Rays have pitched well against the Yankees, even though the names on the mound have not always been familiar.

"They’ve been able to hold us down," Boone said. "They’ve had the advantages in some of the close ballgames and they found a way to pull them out. Obviously, the Division Series last year was very competitive and down to the very end and a little bit different than the regular season, which is where they really beat us up a little bit.

"I think there were some times in the regular season where we were going in there off a doubleheader, for example, and weren’t lined up real well. But that said, last year during the regular season, they beat us up and in the games where it was real close, they were able to find a way to beat us."

Tampa Bay goes into the series with a 19-17 record. The Yankees are 18-16 after a 5-10 start. That low point came on April 18 after the Rays completed their sweep in the Bronx.

"It’s a really good team," Boone said of the defending AL champions. "They’re obviously very good at preventing runs. They’ve got versatility in their lineup. They’re a challenge and you’ve got to play well if you’re going to beat them, so hopefully we can go start to turn that table a little bit."

Giancarlo Stanton, who had a walk-off single in the ninth Sunday, was asked if this visit to Tampa Bay is important, even for May. He didn’t hesitate.

"Oh, yeah," Stanton said. "We need to go in there and play good baseball and go get a series down in Tampa. It hasn’t been in our favor against them lately. So yeah, we need to change that."

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