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Game Preview: Tuesday (4/25) at New York

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RAYS (8-11) at New York (9-8)
7:05; Yankee Stadium
RAYS TV/PAX; RAYS RADIO/1250 WHNZ AM

Pitching Matchup:

LH Scott Kazmir

RH Mike Mussina

Lineups

RAYS
CF Joey Gathright
LF Damon Hollins
DH Jonny Gomes
1B Travis Lee
3B Ty Wigginton
RF Russell Branyan
C Toby Hall
SS Tomas Perez
2B Nick Green

New York
CF Johnny Damon
SS Derek Jeter
RF Gary Sheffield
3B Alex Rodriguez
DH Jason Giambi
LF Hideki Matsui
C Jorge Posada
1B Andy Phillips
2B Miguel Cairo

Upcoming Games

Tomorrow-at New York, 7:05 (McClung)

Thursday-at New York, 7:05 (Hendrickson)

Friday-vs Boston, 7:15 (Fossum)

-No matter what happens tonight, I will survive

GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

RAYS (8-11) at New York (9-8)
7:05; Yankee Stadium
RAYS TV/PAX; RAYS RADIO/1250 WHNZ AM

Editor's Note-To shorten the length of my game previews, I have decided to split my game preview up into two features. One feature is strictly the game preview. This will feature the same things as always. The vital info, pitching matchup, breakdown, bottom line, et al, things pertaining to that day's game. The rest of the info that appeared above the game preview in this space, the game recap, the minor league box scores, and the day's news, will be split up into a different post, and that post will be here tomorrow with a recap of Tuesday's action. Anyways, I hope that these changes will be viewed as improvements, and will help you readers to get the info you want without scrolling through a bunch of other stuff. Anyways, we'll see how it goes, and I thank you all for your continued readership!

Pitching Matchup:

Breakdown

LH Scott Kazmir

-Taking the mound for the Rays today is southpaw Scott Kazmir, the Rays ace who has recently rebounded from a poor spring training and opening day start to strike out 19, give up just one home run and only five runs in 20.1 innings pitched since that first start. Kazmir's control has been much improved this season, as two of his three starts since opening day have resulted in K:BBs of 7:1 and 6:1. Overall in those three starts, his K:BB is 19:6, and is 23:9 on the season. After the debacle on opening day, he has also been able to keep the ball down, as his G:F is 22:19 in his last three starts. Kazmir was absolutely masterful last time out against the Red Sox, going just 5.2 innings, but surrendering only one run on four hits, while striking out seven and walking just one to pick up the only win in Boston last week, and the only win last week period for the Rays.

This will be Kazmir's first start of the season against New York, fitting since it is the first game the two teams have played in 2006, though Kaz has had tremendous success against New York in the past, pitching to a 2.81 ERA and 1.31 WHIP, and limiting Yankee batters to a .230 opponents' batting average, while striking out more than double his walk total. That isn't to say that New York will be an easy task for Kazmir. We all know of New York's firepower, but the only Yankees with success against Kaz have done so in limited at bats, witness....

Gary Sheffield-6 ABs, 2.083 OPS, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB
Hideki Matsui-6 ABs, .833 OPS, RBI, 2 BB
Jorge Posada-4 ABs, .900 OPS, 2 RBI

Yet still, in any sample size, if only three Yankee hitters have had success against you in the past, and those three have a combined number of 16 ABs against you, you've got to feel good.

For Kazmir to have success today, he has to do three things. One, he must, I repeat, must not let the Yankees put the ball in play too much today. First off, because the Rays don't have their 'A' team in the field, Branyan in right, Hollins in left being examples of this. Secondly, if New York puts the ball in play a lot, chances are, they will have success. Yankee balls in play tend not to fall in the range of opposing team fielders, and they can put the ball in the range of the Hudson River if Kazmir leaves a fat one out over the plate. The second and third things he must focus on are related...walks and strikeouts. To put New York away, Kazmir must bring out his full arsenal and put New York away at the plate. He must strive to strike Yankee hitters out and leave their fate up to him. If you leave the result of a play in the hands of New York hitters, chances are you will not be in for a good day. Lastly, Kaz must avoid the walks. He has done a great job in improving his plate patience, in two of his last three starts he has walked only one batter, and he must continue that today. The Yankees lead MLB in OBP, and are second in the AL in walks. They can smell out bad pitches very well, and they will take their base, they aren't slap-happy. They are extremely disciplined at the plate, and putting Yankee hitters on is giving them a gift, more so than other teams, because the Nos. 1-7 in today's order are tough outs and will take advantage of opportunities. Simply put, if Kaz can replicate the success he showed in shutting down Boston last time out, we will be fine.

RH Mike Mussina

-Taking the mound for New York is 200+ game winner Mike Mussina. Mussina has gotten off to a very hot start for New York, having won two of his first three decisions and earning a quality start in each of his four starts this season. He has been typical Mike Mussina, not overpowering hitters, but getting the job done, and in doing so, has proved to be the Yankees' most consistent and longest-tenured starter since his New York debut five years ago. Last time out against Toronto he pitched a great game, going 7.1 innings, giving up only one run and walking no one while k'ing seven.

Mussina has been, well, Mike Mussina against the Rays in the past, doing nothing spectacular, but, for the most part, getting the job done. Mussina has had vast experience pitching against the Rays, having pitched in the AL East since before the team's debut, before New York being with Baltimore. He is 13-5 all-time against the Rays with a 3.47 ERA and impressive 1.22 WHIP, striking out about 3.5 batters for every one walk. Yet a few individual Rays have had some hot hitting records against Mussina in the past, though two of those players are injured, and one is not starting today, leaving the Rays lineup with zero successful track records against "the Moose" today. Here are those players, for kicks, anyway.

Aubrey Huff-41 ABs, .716 OPS, HR, 2 BB
Julio Lugo-19 ABs, .895 OPS, HR
Josh Paul-7 ABs, 1.286 OPS, HR

Well, it does look bleak, but here is how the Rays can best Mussina...

Just generally, the Rays need to wait Mussina out. He is no spring chicken, he is 37 years old. If the Rays can foul pitches off, extend ABs, and draw some pitches, and yes, that does actually require plate patience, then they have a chance. If they can stretch Mussina's pitch count and force him out in the middle innings, they well get prime pickings because New York will have to dig into their bullpen sooner, and for as decent as they have been thus far, guys like Scott Proctor and Tanyon Sturtze are a lot easier to hit than Mussina. But the Rays, if they are going to make their move, need to do it before the ninth inning, because we all know that the ninth is shutdown time for the only active major leaguer to wear Jackie Robinson's number. To put it simply, the Rays need to force New York to go to their bullpen early.

The Bottom Line is....New York is not invincible. And with Scott Kazmir on the mound, the Rays statistically have their best chance to win a game this series. If only Kaz were facing a weaker New York pitcher (and believe me, there are plenty), this would be any easier win. Alas, Kaz needs to keep up the good control, and the Rays need to make Mussina work if they want to win this ballgame. I cannot stress that enough. The Rays, without Crawford, so it may be more possible, need to let a few pitches go by. If it looks to be on the edge, don't swing at it. You may take a strike, depending on the home plate umpire, but you also make Mussina work, and that is what we want. If the Rays can make Mussina go four or five pitches, on average, per at bat, then they have a great chance to win. If not? Well, I've got a Big Red shutdown day tomorrow on the record.

Lineups

RAYS
CF Joey Gathright
LF Damon Hollins
DH Jonny Gomes
1B Travis Lee
3B Ty Wigginton
RF Russell Branyan
C Toby Hall
SS Tomas Perez
2B Nick Green

-I suppose Maddon has his hands tied, but what is with this lineup? Now, I'm not going to blast Carl Crawford for attending his grandmother's funeral, that would be horrible, but the fact of the matter is, it leaves us in a much worse position, having to play Damon Hollins against a righty pitcher. Also out is Jorge Cantu, a late scratch from the lineup that froced Nick Green to play against a righty. Still, even with the lineup out there, the Rays should swap Gomes and Branyan, position-wise, and let Gomes play his natural position while avoiding the defensive log that is Branyan playing the outfield. Gathright, I would prefer not be leading off, but he is our best alternative to Crawford. As for the No. 2 hole, it is pick your poison, Green or Hollins. For the rest, I'd move Wiggy to the three spot, put Gomes fourth, Branyan fifth, Lee sixth, and leave the bottom three as is. But DH'ing Gomes and putting Branyan in right is what really ticks me about this alignment.

New York
CF Johnny Damon
SS Derek Jeter
RF Gary Sheffield
3B Alex Rodriguez
DH Jason Giambi
LF Hideki Matsui
C Jorge Posada
1B Andy Phillips
2B Miguel Cairo

-New York tells Bernie to ride the bench today, and it is for our benefit, as the horrible Andy Phillips plays first today as Giambi moves to DH, and ex-Ray Miguel Cairo relieves the hot Robinson Cano, again, to our benefit.

Upcoming Games

Tomorrow-at New York, 7:05 (McClung)

Thursday-at New York, 7:05 (Hendrickson)

Friday-vs Boston, 7:15 (Fossum)

-No matter what happens tonight, I will survive

GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!