The New York Yankees have a chance to accomplish two tasks when the first-place Tampa Bay Rays enter Yankees Stadium for three games from June 5-7. First, the Yankees (29-24) can seek revenge for the season-opening sweep that the Rays (31-23) handed them back in April. Second, the Yankees could take first place in the American League East.
The Yankees need to sweep the series because they currently trail by 1.5 games. Winning two of three would leave them a half game behind the Rays. In addition, the Yankees are currently in third place while the very surprising Baltimore Orioles are in second just one game out. The Orioles (30-24) would have to lose to the Boston Red Sox (28-26), who are currently tied for last with the Toronto Blue Jays but only three games behind. All five teams have Monday, June 4, off.
The Yankees' starting rotation has really improved in the past few weeks. Their overall rotation ERA is 4.07, but they have pitched much better since mid May. The Rays' starters have the best ERA in the American League at 3.41. That says a lot considering that they have faced the powerful A.L. East lineups for most of the season.
On Tuesday, James Shields (6-3, 3.95 ERA) and Andy Pettitte (2-2, 3.95) take the mound. Shields has won five in a row and six of seven. Pettitte looks like he never missed action although he did lose to the Seattle Mariners in his last start.
Wednesday sees Alex Cobb (2-1, 3.71) vs, Ivan Nova (6-2, 5.60). Cobb won his last two starts over the Red Sox and Atlanta Braves, allowing three runs in 12 innings. Nova has won four of his last five decisions, but he has allowed five or more runs five times and has pitched seven innings only once this season.
Thursday's finale matches ace southpaws David Price (7-3, 2.44) and CC Sabathia (7-2, 3.68). Price has won four of his last five decisions and could easily have nine wins. Sabathia is his normal dominant self, winning his last five decisions. He has not allowed more than four runs in any of his last ten starts. Both pitchers could make runs at the Cy Young award.
If the games come down to bullpens, the Yankees have the advantage even without Mariano Rivera. The Yankees are 14 of 16 (87.5%) in saves with a 2.81 ERA, and the Rays are 19 of 23 (82.6%), 3.52. Both bullpens can get it done, but the Yankees have been a little better so far.
Offensively, the Yankees have scored 4.69 runs per game, and the Rays average 4.26. That near half-run difference could give the Yankees an advantage especially with their left-handed power in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have hit 80 home runs to the Rays' 59. Each game could come down to who gets that one good pitch to hit, and the Yankees do not miss that pitch very often.
I cannot wait for this series to begin. I predict the Yankees taking two of three although I would love to see a sweep. Even then, they need some help from the Red Sox (of all teams) to move into first place. Still, I cannot root for Boston to win -- just Baltimore to lose.
Whether the Yankees take first place or not, we have well over half a season to go, and the division is up for grabs. All five teams are above .500 and within three games of each other entering play on June 4. What a race the American League East has in store for us in 2012.
Major League Baseball, Sortable Team Statistics, mlb.mlb.com as of June 4, 2012.
Yahoo! Sports, 2010 Standings, sports.yahoo.com/mlb as of June 4, 2012.
Yahoo! Sports, Individual Player Pages (linked above), sports,yahoo.com/mlb as of June 4, 2012.
Yahoo Sports, Scores and Schedules, June 5, 6, 7; sports.yahoo.com/mlb.
Raymond was born in Connecticut into a family spilt between the Red Sox and Yankees. Although he grew up in Florida, Raymond became a Yankees fan. He played baseball through high school and soon after became a varsity coach. He currently coaches Little League in Florida. Raymond previously produced radio sports talk shows and hosted a weekly MLB radio call-in show. Follow Raymond on Twitter @RayBureau
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- the Rays