Roy Halladay has won 15 games this season, has the third-lowest ERA in the AL and is one of the leading contenders to win his second Cy Young Award.
What he hasn’t done is beat the Tampa Bay Rays.
Halladay will try to avoid falling to 0-4 against the AL East-leading Rays this season when the Toronto Blue Jays open a three-game set in St. Petersburg on Tuesday.
Halladay (15-9, 2.68 ERA) has been one of the AL’s best pitchers since 2002, when he won 19 games with a sub-3.00 ERA. He won 22 games and the Cy Young Award the following year, but Halladay’s 2008 campaign has been as impressive as his early years in Toronto.
Opponents are hitting .233 off Halladay and his ERA is a half-run lower than the year he won the Cy Young. He had nine complete games in 2003, and is one away from tying that mark this season. No other AL pitcher has more than three.
But as good as Halladay has been for the Blue Jays (67-63), he hasn’t helped them beat the Rays in three starts. Tampa Bay (79-50) is 9-3 against Toronto this season, and Halladay is 0-3 with a 5.32 ERA versus the Rays.
He’s 15-6 with a 2.35 ERA against the rest of baseball, however, and has topped the East’s other contenders in his last two starts. He pitched a complete game in beating Boston on Aug. 16, then allowed three runs over seven innings - striking out nine - in a 14-3 rout of New York on Thursday, prompting the Yankees’ Johnny Damon to call Halladay “the best pitcher in the game.”
Blue Jays infielder Joe Inglett agrees.
“It’s nice to know that you have one of the best pitchers in the American League, or all of baseball, going,” he told the team’s official Web site after Halladay’s latest win.
The Rays are batting .259 as a team - 12th in the AL - but they’re hitting .277 this season off Halladay.
The Blue Jays are 12 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay - and eight back of Boston in the wild-card race - after losing two of three to the Red Sox over the weekend, including 6-5 in 11 innings on Sunday.
The Rays, meanwhile, were in Chicago and became just the second team in the last 10 series to take two of three from the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field despite losing Sunday’s finale 6-5 in 10 innings.
Tampa Bay is 4 1/2 games up on Boston in the division.
“Of course you look at the standings and where we are at,” James Shields, Tuesday’s starter, told the Rays’ official Web site. “But we try to just not think about that too much.”
Shields (11-7, 3.68) has been one of the big reasons for Tampa Bay’s success this season, and he had one of his more significant outings in his last start. He pitched eight innings against the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels last Tuesday, allowing two runs and striking out seven in a 4-2 win.
He’s also been impressive against Toronto, going 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA in three starts this season.
“They know everything I’ve got,” Shields said. “I’ve thrown everything at them, so I just want to execute my pitches. I’ve got four quality pitches I can use at any time in any count. I’m just going to pitch my game.”
Shields is 4-0 lifetime in five home starts against Toronto.