The Yankees won their first five meetings

ST. PETERSBURG Daniel Jones Jersey , Fla. — The New York Yankees have the best record in baseball at 50-22, and they’ve rarely been better than against the Tampa Bay Rays this season.

Rays this season by a combined margin of 31-10 before losing Sunday, and they’re back again for a weekend series at Tropicana Field, having won seven of eight overall after a sweep of the Mariners.

New York has been dominant for many reasons, but a strong bullpen is certainly one of them, with a collective ERA of 2.86, second only to Houston among American League teams. Part of that has been solid starting pitching requiring less use of relievers. The Yankees’ relievers have thrown close to 70 innings fewer than the Rays have in grinding out a 3.73 ERA in a league-high workload.

“They’ve been terrific,” manager Aaron Boone said of New York’s relievers. “They protect each other, because many guys have stepped up. … It’s a big reason. We’re built in a lot of ways around that great bullpen. They continue to deliver.”

The Rays (34-40) have lost five of seven and have sorely missed that continuity in their starting rotation, continuing to rely on relievers working as “openers” on patchwork bullpen days. Such will be the case in Friday’s opener, with right-hander Ryne Stanek (1-1 Dexter Lawrence Jersey , 2.21 ERA) getting the ball first, but expected to go little more than the first inning.

Stanek has pitched exceptionally well in that role, however. In eight June appearances, he has an 0.00 ERA in 10 2/3 innings, having allowed only three hits with 12 strikeouts against three walks. Until their recent skid, the Rays had continued to hover around .500 baseball despite trading away major parts of last year’s team in exchange for prospects.

Stanek started last Saturday’s game against the Yankees, and allowed one hit and no runs in 1 1/3 innings in a game New York won 4-1. He has faced the Yankees five times in his career, inclding that one start, and is 0-0 with a 2.08 ERA over 4 1/3 innings.

The Rays got one key player back after missing two months with injury in center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, whose defense is among the league’s best. His bat has yet to come around this season, though. He is 0-for-9 in two games since returning from the disabled list Deandre Baker Jersey , lowering his season average to .135.

“He’s fine. He’ll get going,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Unfortunately, KK got off to a rough start. Those numbers are going to be ugly for a little while, but I’m confident he’ll get going … I’m very confident.”

The Rays will face a familiar face Friday in Yankees starter C.C. Sabathia, who is 4-2 this season with a 3.30 ERA, with one of those two losses coming Sunday against the Rays in New York. Sabathia pitched into the eighth but gave up a season-high 10 hits, allowing three runs in a 3-1 loss while striking out a season-high 10 batters and walking only one.

Sabathia has faced the Rays 46 times in his career, and no opponent has more wins against him than the Rays — he’s 16-15 all-time, with a 3.76 ERA.

New York goes into the series with a considerable head of steam. They’re 17-4 in their last 21 games, putting them on pace to challenge the best starts by any team at this stage in the season.

The Carolina Panthers have released running back Jonathan Stewart.

Stewart became the franchise’s career rushing leader in 2017, finishing with 7 Oshane Ximines Jersey ,318 rushing yards. Stewart’s 1,699 rushing attempts are also the most in franchise history, while his 58 touchdowns (51 rushing, seven receiving) are second in franchise history.

”Jonathan played the game the way you want. He brought an element of toughness as a runner that set the tempo for our team,” coach Ron Rivera said in a statement. ”He is a great pro, and I appreciate who he is as a young man and thank him for the contribution he made.”

Stewart helped Carolina to five playoff appearances, and holds franchise records for career rushing yards (474), rushing attempts (101) and rushing touchdowns (five) in the playoffs. His three rushing touchdowns in the 2015 postseason are the franchise high.

Stewart played all 10 seasons with the Panthers after being drafted by Carolina in the first round in 2008 out of Oregon.

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