Last time these two teams met was the start of the 2012 season, and the Rays swept the Yankees right out of Tropicana Field.
The Rays stand atop the AL East, tied with the Orioles with a 19-10 record but are coming to the Bronx on a two game losing streak.
Still, the 15-13 Yankees are the ones looking up at the Rays and have a perfect opportunity to make a move in the division and get some of their pride back.
The Rays are without third baseman Evan Longoria, and possibly Desmond Jennings too; but the Yankees will be without Mariano Rivera for the first time at home since 2003 along with a slew of others, including Brett Gardner, on their lengthy DL list.
The pitching match-ups are as follows, along with my predictions:
Shields is clearly the better pitcher, but the recent awaken of Robbie Cano’s bat could give him some problems as Cano has hit four homers, five doubles, two triples and posts a .400 batting average against Shields. Cano was not a factor for Shields in their earlier meeting this season.
Nova is coming off his first loss after a 15-game winning streak but I do like the way he has pitched lately. He is reminding me of a 2010 Hughes, as he is getting a ton of run support. He has held the Rays to a .170 batting average, allowing two homers, three RBIs, three walks, while striking out 10 of the 47 total at-bats he has logged against them.
I believe this game is up to the Yankees bats, and even though they hit shields down in Tampa for a no-decision, he has won every start since and has an MLB best of five wins heading into tonight’s start. Still, Shields has last three starts at Yankee Stadium, and over his 10 outings has allowed 10 homers.
Nova can be relied on totally, as he is working though some sophomore kinks but I do not think the Yankees will lose this one as there bats are meshing and the team knows how important these wins are.
Over at the Yankee Analysts, Matt Imbrogno thinks that Game 2 is the key to this series but I think tonight’s is more important and one the Yankees need to capitalize on.
THE YANKEES WIN 9-4.
This game is hard to breakdown because this is only Phelps second start ever, but Neiman has had success against the Yankee in his career. Neiman has held the Yankees to a .223 batting average and just two homers in 94 at-bats.
The Yankees could get a solid game out of Phelps as he the stuff is there, and maybe he will be more comfortable after getting his début out-of-the-way. The Yankee fans have to play nice here too, as trust me you would rather have Phelps develop than watch Phil Hughes. His last start bought Hughes more time but I think he is better coming out of the bullpen.
RAYS WIN 5-2.
Sabathia is dominating and only getting better. This one is CC’s to lose, as the Yankees should be able to give their ace much run support if history proves anything.
Price’s two potential problems happen to be the Yankees hottest bats in Nick Swisher and the Captain, and I don’t see any signs of either slowing down.
THE YANKEES WIN 6-2.