As you may have heard, the Yankees and Rays played three one-run games in Tampa Bay last week that resulted in the Rays taking two of three and leapfrogging the Yankees into first place. This in and of itself wouldn’t have been such indigestible news had it not come immediately after the Yankees had been swept by the Rangers and lost two of three to the Orioles.
So the top two teams in the American League meet for the sixth and final time this season for a four-game set at Yankee Stadium. For the second straight week, the Rays come into a series against the Yankees just a 1/2 game out of first place. For the Yankees, it’s the first time they get to play the Rays at home since the first weekend of the second half, and given just how closely these two teams play each other, the Yankees have to be happy that they’ll have last licks should it inevitably come to extra innings at some point in the next four games.
The Yanks are 2-3 against the Rays at home this season, which means that Tampa Bay and Philadelphia (2-1) are the only two teams with winning records against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in 2010. Want to know the only two teams with winning records against the Yankees at home in 2009? Why, the Phillies again, and the Washington Nationals.
The four-game set kicks off with a rematch of Ivan Nova (4.78 ERA; 4.73 FIP; 4.36 xFIP) vs. Matt Garza (3.89 ERA; 4.54 FIP; 4.51 xFIP). We all know how that match-up went down last week — Garza was roughed up for six runs over 4 2/3 while Nova came undone in the fifth himself, also ultimately giving up six runs in 4 2/3 despite starting the evening out on a strong note. Tough to say how Nova will do here given that he literally just saw the Rays, but if he can at least deliver five strong innings that will represent a step in the right direction. Garza was the only Tampa Bay starting pitcher to pitch poorly last week, which means he’ll probably hurl a complete game shutout.
The second game also features a rematch from last week as Phil Hughes (4.33 ERA; 4.28 FIP; 4.31 xFIP) and James Shields (4.89 ERA; 4.21 FIP; 3.64 xFIP) — the #5 and #1 starting pitchers in the American League in terms of HR/9 — square off again to see who can surrender less home runs. Shields won last week, yielding zero, because even though he’s having a rough year he’s somehow managed to save all his good outings for when he faces the Yankees. Phil of course gave two home runs up — a bit of a surprise as he’s been less prone to surrender the long ball on the road — and the second one was ultimately the difference in the game.
The third game has A.J. Burnett (5.08 ERA; 4.68 FIP; 4.58 xFIP) against Wade Davis (4.19 ERA; 4.91 FIP; 4.83 xFIP). Neither pitched in Tampa Bay last week, and Burnett hasn’t seen the Rays since July 17, when he gave up four runs in his shortest outing of the season (2 IP). Burnett also stunk against Tampa Bay on May 19, giving up 6 ER in 6 2/3 IP. His only good outing against the Rays came in the sixth game of the year, a dominating 7 IP, 2 ER effort. While we’d all be doing cartwheels for the latter, I think we could all live with 6 IP, 4 ER at the worst. Wade Davis has seen the Yankees thrice, falling to Sabathia in the near no-no back in April (6 IP, 4 ER) and then mostly having his way with the Yanks at the Stadium in May (5 2/3 IP, 2 ER) and dominating them on July 30 to the tune of 7 IP and 2 ER in the Phil Hughes Matt Joyce three-run game-winning homer contest. Curiously, Davis’ change ranks as the worst in the league among qualifiers, though even with a below-average changeup I can only imagine he’ll be able to stifle the Yankees, who wouldn’t be able to hit a changeup if their lives depended on it.
And the finale is a rematch of last week’s outrageously classic pitcher’s duel, as CC Sabathia (3.05 ERA; 3.58 FIP; 3.83 xFIP) faces David Price (2.79 ERA; 3.50 FIP; 4.01 xFIP) again. Last Monday Sabathia and Price pitched so dominantly and so similarly that each were credited with utterly outrageous .571 WPAs. Without looking up the numbers, that right there has to represent the two highest WPA scores by opposing pitchers in any single game in all of MLB for the entire year. There’s basically zero chance that both will be that good again, but there’s also no reason to expect one to be more off their game than the other. As I said in the Series Preview prior to that epic Sabathia-Price showdown, “I could see this game coming down to one bad pitch.” While neither starter ended up throwing that one bad pitch, Sergio Mitre certainly did. Regardless, something tells me this one won’t be 0-0 after nine innings.
Here’s a look at the two teams’ offense and pitching numbers:
Obviously not a ton has changed since they last met one series ago. It’s eerie how similar the bullpen numbers are for these two teams, as both units rank in the top four in the American League in nearly every major rate statistic.
During the last 30 days the Yankees have been outperforming their season BA and OBP, although their SLG is nearly exactly the same, which underscores their recent stranded baserunner issues. They continue to get a ton of men on, but they just aren’t driving the ball in critical situations. The fact that Mark Teixeira and Lance Berkman have combined for zero home runs in September has a fair amount to do with this — in fact, the team only has 14 home runs this month and is slugging .380.
Some of the Rays’ numbers over the last 30 days surprised me to a degree — they actually have the worst team FIP in the AL during that period, and it’s even worse in September (5.28). That’ll happen when you give up the second-most home runs in the league despite having the best K rate in the AL.
Regardless of any recent trends, we’ve all seen just how toughly these two teams play each other, and anyone predicting anything other than a split of these four games is either crazy or has some sort of inside information. Contrary to what you may have heard, this series isn’t that important, since both teams are near-locks for the postseason. Of course, losing three of four would probably kill the Yankees’ chances of winning the division, while winning three of four would likely help clinch it, but ultimately I’m happy as long as they make it to the dance. Given how competitive the Yankees and Rays are with each other, I’d be more than happy with a split this week.
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TagsA.J. Burnett Alex Rodriguez Andy Pettitte Austin Romine Baltimore Orioles Bartolo Colon Boston Red Sox Brett Gardner Brian Cashman Bullpen CC Sabathia Chien-Ming Wang Cliff Lee Curtis Granderson David Robertson Dellin Betances Derek Jeter Francisco Cervelli Freddy Garcia Game Recap Hiroki Kuroda Ivan Nova Javier Vazquez Jesus Montero Joba Chamberlain Joe Girardi Johnny Damon Jorge Posada Manny Banuelos Mariano Rivera Mark Teixeira Melky Cabrera Michael Pineda New York New York Yankees Nick Johnson Nick Swisher Phil Hughes Prospects Rafael Soriano Red Sox Robinson Cano Russell Martin Tampa Bay Rays Yankees