It's still May, but any game against the Yankees is a big game. With the Red Sox so far behind already, the Yankees are the Rays' main competition for the AL East title. The Rays are currently three games ahead of the Yanks, meaning they could leave this series ahead either one game, three games, or five games.
Wednesday, May 19: RHP Wade Davis vs. RHP A.J. Burnett
Thursday, May 20: RHP James Shields vs. LHP Andy Pettitte
While I'd love to sweep the Yankees and be five games ahead of them, the odds are pretty steep. Tonight's game is a bit of a mismatch, with our number five starter throwing against the Yanks' number two. I love Wade Davis and he's been a great number five starter, but A.J. Burnett is a damn good pitcher (3.67 FIP / 4.21 xFIP) and the Yanks have a really strong offense, one that's scored the most runs in the majors to date.
That said, the Yankees are looking vulnerable at the moment, potentially as vunerable as we'll see them this year. More after the jump.
Due to injuries and a shallow roster construction, the Yankees are showing some chinks in their armor. With both Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson on the DL and Nick Swisher day-to-day with a strained bicep, the Yankees are weaker both at the plate and in the field. The Yankees' outfield is currently manned by Randy Winn (LF), Brett Gardner (CF), and Marcus Thames (RF), which is not nearly as explosive or intimidating as we're used to from the Yankees. Brett Gardner is showing signs of breaking out this year (.390 wOBA, 17 SB currently) and he's certainly fast, but he's still no Curtis Granderson.
If the Rays can get past both Burnett and Pettitte, they might have some success against the Yankees' bullpen. Alfredo Aceves is on the DL and the rest of their pen has been less than stellar so far this season. Chan Ho Park has an 8.10 ERA, courtesy of letting up four homeruns in six innings, and Joba Chamberlain has had very poor luck with stranding runners so far (4.91 ERA / 2.38 FIP). Damasco Marte (5.24 FIP) and Sergio Mitre (5.20 FIP) have both seen lots of playing time as well. Mariano Rivera is still as dominant as ever, but that bridge between him and the starters is looking suspect at the moment.
Unless injuries keep hitting the Yankees, we're not likely to face them again with a team this weak. The bullpen will stabilize eventually (or else Cashman will make a couple blockbuster trades) and Granderson and Swisher will come back to make the outfield stronger. Although neither Pettitte or Burnett are pushovers, the Rays should try and take advantage of this temporary weakness and at least split the series.