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Series Preview: New York Yankees @ Tampa Bay Rays

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First two games are 7:10 PM start; Sunday's game is a 1:40 PM start.

Friday, July 30: Phil Hughes (4.00 FIP)  vs. Wade Davis (5.33 FIP)

Saturday, July 31: Javier Vazquez (4.92 FIP) vs. Matt Garza (4.52 FIP)

Sunday, August 1: CC Sabathia (3.61 FIP) vs. James Shields (4.20 FIP)

This is huge. Enormous. I don't want to get hyperbolic when there's still 60 games left in the regular season, but this is about as important a series as you can have at this stage in the season. The Rays have been on fire recently - winning their last six games in a row - but the Yankees haven't been doing so bad themselves, winning seven of their last ten games to stay two games ahead of the Rays. The Rays need to win this series to make up ground in the division, but more importantly, they need to win so that they can keep Boston from getting any closer in the Wild Card race. Five and a half games is a nice cushion, but if the Rays get swept and Boston takes a few games from the Tigers, things can change in a hurry.

The name of the game this series is going to be pitching. The Rays don't have as good a line-up as the Yankees, so they need their pitchers to keep the games close enough that the Rays can win. If Davis, Garza, and Shields can keep the game close for six innings, the deadly trio of Benoit, Balfour, and Sori can take over and give the Rays a chance. The Yankees don't have a particularly strong bullpen, so the Rays can knock their starters out of the game early, it'd give them a huge advantage.

This is the last time the Rays will face the Yankees until mid-September, and the third-to-last time they face each other all season. Let's make that division race a little closer, shall we?