NEW YORK -- The Tampa Bay Rays have become one of baseball's most pleasant surprises since implementing an unusual wrinkle into their starting rotation. But possessing a true old-fashioned ace atop their rotation hasn't stopped the New York Mets from enduring one of the worst runs in their history.
Two teams heading in unexpectedly different directions will begin a rare three-game series Friday night when the Mets host the Rays at Citi Field.
It will be just the second time the Rays play the Mets at Citi Field since the stadium opened in 2009, though Tampa Bay played three "home games" against the New York Yankees at Citi Field last September after Hurricane Irma hit the gulf coast of Florida.
Right-hander Ryne Stanek (1-2, 1.98 ERA) is scheduled to serve as the "opener" for the Rays against Mets ace Jacob deGrom (5-4, 1.84).
Despite falling to .500 with the loss, the Rays (43-43) received what has become a standard strong pitching effort. Tampa Bay has the lowest ERA in the majors (2.81) since May 19 when it began utilizing an "opener" instead of a traditional starting pitcher in select games.
The Rays have allowed three runs or fewer 25 times in the subsequent 43 games, 23 of which have been started by relief pitchers typically pitching three innings or fewer.
Stanek will make his 10th start, by far the most among openers. He has a 1.42 ERA as a starter and has pitched longer than 1 2/3 innings just once.
Stanek has also contributed as a late-inning reliever in the last six weeks, which means he'll take the mound Friday fresh off three decidedly different experiences.
After tossing a scoreless inning as a starter against the Houston Astros last Saturday, Stanek took the loss Monday when he allowed a run without getting an out as the Rays fell to the Marlins 3-2 in the 10th inning before he tossed two hitless innings in Tuesday's 9-6, 16-inning win.
"Ryne's thrown the ball so well for us in that opener role," Rays manager Kevin Cash told reporters after the loss Monday. "He's done some good things in the later innings."
Nobody in baseball is doing a better job of things during traditional starter's innings than deGrom, who leads the majors in ERA despite suffering from almost inconceivable bad luck. DeGrom has a 1.42 ERA in his last 13 starts, during which the Mets have gone 3-10 and deGrom is 3-4.
DeGrom's misery is par for the course for the Mets (34-49), who have gone 7-22 since June 1 and are just 23-48 since an 11-1 start.
"I'm tired of losing to be honest -- everybody else in here I'm sure is," deGrom told reporters Saturday when he took the loss after allowing three runs in six innings as the Mets fell to the Marlins 5-2. "That's not what we want to do. We came in here to win baseball games and we're not doing that. We have to find a way to do that."
With the Mets buried in the postseason race, deGrom has been the subject of trade rumors, though SNY reported Thursday that it appears he will stay with the team through at least the end of the season.
New York, which has a three-headed general manager setup after Sandy Alderson went on an indefinite leave of absence last week in order to battle a recurrence of cancer, is expected to hire a new general manager in the offseason.
Stanek has never faced the Mets. DeGrom didn't factor into the decision in his only previous career start against the Rays on Aug. 7, 2015, when he gave up two runs in 6 1/3 innings in New York's 4-3 victory.