It's here! The series that Rays fans (and probably quite a few Yankees fans) circled in dark red when the schedules first came out last winter starts tonight when the New York Yankees invade Tropicana Field for three games with the AL East division lead up for grabs. And while this series itself will not determine the division championship, it lays the groundwork for reaching that decision as the two teams face each other seven times in their next ten games.
The teams begin the series seperated by just a half game and with the three games representing a six game swing in the standings, could leave with one or the other as the definitive, if not decisive, leader heading into the last handful of games.
- If New York sweeps, the Rays will be 3.5 games back.
- If New York wins two of three, the Rays will be 1.5 games back
- If the Rays win two of three, they'll hold a half game lead.
- If the Rays sweep, they'll be up 2.5 games.
While normally one would expect a conflict between two heavyweights like this to result in a split decision, a sweep either way would not be a huge surprise, as neither team hasreally been playing their best baseball coming into this series.
The Yankees (87-56, 1st) are 4-6 in their last ten games, with three of those wins comprising the end of an eight game winning streak. Since that streak ended, they're 1-6 and are currently on a three game losing streak, having been swept by the Texas Rangers in Arlington over the weekend. It's impossible for any outsider to place a value on intangibles like morale and momentum, but you have to believe the last thing the Yankees wanted was to come into this series on the heels of being swept. They'll send Cy Young Award candidate CC Sabathia (19-6, 3.14) to the mound to begin the series. Sabathia will be attempting to win 20 games in a season for the first time in his career. He was denied that milestone in his last start, Tuesday against Baltimore, giving up six runs (five earned) and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings, losing for the first time at Yankee Stadium this season.
The Rays (86-56, 2nd) are 5-5 in their last ten, coming home from a nine game east coast road trip that saw them lose series to the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox but come within a rare blown save opportunity by Rafael Soriano of sweeping the Toronto Blue Jays. Having completed that jaunt, the Rays play 12 of their final 20 regular season games at home. Tonight, they counter with their own Cy Young candidate in David Price (17-6, 2.87). Price gave up seven runs in five innings when he faced the Yankees in New York on July 18th but is 5-1 in nine starts since.