Andy Pettitte will set the tone of the series versus the Tampa Bay Rays tonight at Yankee Stadium. (Image: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE)

Light at the end of the tunnel: Yankees host Rays with first place in sight


The New York Yankees welcome the Tampa Bay Rays to Yankee Stadium for a three-game series beginning tonight. Despite two-plus months of up and down baseball, the Yankees are in a position to take over first place from the Rays.

Being in position and actually accomplishing the feat however are two different things. The Rays are looking at the series as a way to regain distance on the Yankees. Which team has the better chance of coming out on top? Let’s review.

The Yankees are 14-11 at the Stadium so far this season and the Rays are 12-12 on the road. There is no significant advantage there. Head to head this season the Yankees are 2-4; they were swept in the first series of the season in Tampa and then took two of three from the Rays in the second week of May.

The pitching matchups may give a slight edge to the Yankees for the series. In the series opener, Andy Pettitte (2-2, 3.49 ERA) takes on James Shields (6-3, 3.95 ERA). Pettitte has a career mark of 16-6 with a 4.11 ERA in 30 starts against the Rays. Carlos Pena (13-for-40, 6 HR) and Ben Zobrist (7-for-13, 2 HR) have had very good success against Pettitte.

Shields has had less success against the Yankees (5-12, 4.39 ERA in 20 starts). Though he has a 1-4 record in the new Yankee Stadium, he has better peripheral stats there than the house that Ruth built. Robinson Cano is drooling in anticipation to face Shields. He carries a .403 average (62 AB) with 4 home runs lifetime against the right-hander. On the flip side Shields dominates Curtis Granderson (4-for-49).

Ivan Nova (6-2, 5.60 ERA) toes the rubber on Wednesday for the Yanks, while Alex Cobb (2-1, 3.71 ERA) makes his fourth start of the season for the Rays. Nova pitched seven innings of two-run ball with eight strikeouts against the Rays on May 8th to earn a victory. Cobb pitched six innings against the Yankees in a 2011 start and allowed two runs (one earned) in a no-decision.

The marquee pitching matchup and quite possibly the rubber game of the series, pits CC Sabathia against David Price. Sabathia (7-2, 3.68 ERA) is coming off a seven-inning three-run victory over the Detroit Tigers. This will be Sabathia’s third start of the season against the Rays. He is 1-0 with a 3.21 ERA in the initial two starts, winning his start at the Stadium where he out-pitched Price. The Rays lefty is having a great season. He is 7-3 with a 2.44 ERA, though his worst start was by far against the Yankees (5 ER in 7 IP versus Sabathia).

Here are the statistical leaders for each team through yesterday’s games.

The Yankees are still struggling with runners in scoring position but they have been managing to score runs with the use of the long ball in situations with no one on base or with a runner at first. The issue has become magnified due to the length of time it has endured and because the Yankees had been very successful in recent years in the RISP department. The team’s performance gets worse with the bases loaded. The problems have gone on so long that it is becoming evident this may be a matter of bad luck as the Yankees are hitting very well in other situations.

In order for the Yankees to be successful in this series they will need to show some improvement in these areas when they arise. The Rays do not typically give away runs, so they Yankees will have to make the most of run scoring situations. Winning two out of three games is not a stretch for the Yankees. If they are able to pull that off they will be even with the Rays in the loss column. A sweep gives them a chance at first-place, dependant on how the Baltimore Orioles in their series at the Boston Red Sox.

Tags: Alex Cobb Andy Pettitte Ben Zobrist Carlos Pena CC Sabathia Curtis Granderson David Price Derek Jeter Ivan Nova James Shields Matt Joyce New York Yankees Nick Swisher Rafael Soriano Robinson Cano Tampa Bay Rays Yankee Stadium Yankees