Might as well start the second half off with a bang...
Friday, July 15: James Shields (4.11 FIP) vs. CC Sabathia (3.75 FIP)
Saturday, July 16: Jeff Niemann (4.21 FIP) vs. AJ Burnett (4.73 FIP)
Sunday, July 17: David Price (3.59 FIP) vs. Andy Pettitte (3.82 FIP)
Holy cow - I am blown away by these pitching match-ups. This should be fun.
This is a big series, but then again, every series from now until the end of the year is a "big series". Every single game looks like it should be a close, hard-fought game, and the series could easily tip one way or the other. The Yankees have the pitching advantage in the first game (and I don't like the idea of James Shields and his recent homerun issues pitching in Yankee Stadium), but the Rays definitely have the upper hand in the second and third games. Price versus Pettitte - now there's a pitching match-up I can't wait to watch.
Of course, these are all going to be games that give Joe West nightmares. Not only will the games themselves be long and drawn out - this is the Yankees, the slowest moving team in the majors - but there will be tributes and remembrances for Bob Sheppard and George Steinbrenner at least before/during the Friday night game. Also, Old Timers' Day is on Saturday, and so there will be lots of pomp and circumstance that day as well. I'm sure it will all be lovely, but if you're going to sit down to watch these games, consider yourself forewarned.
There are two keys for the Rays this series: good pitching and getting to the bullpen early. With the dominant Yankee line-up, good pitching is always a key to beating the Yanks - that shouldn't be a surprise. As for the bullpen, the Yankees have some excellent starters and a dominant back of the 'pen in Mariano Rivera, but the bridge between the starters and the ninth inning has been shaky this year. Joba Chamberlain is the only other pitcher in the entire pen with a FIP below 4, and he's still managed to post a 5.79 ERA. Chan Ho Park has been rather awful (5.21 FIP) and none of the other pitchers has been much better. If the Rays want to win, they need to chase the Yanks' starters early and take advantage of their soft underbelly.