Monday, 6:40 PM: A.J. Burnett (4.20 FIP) vs. David Price (2.90 FIP)
Tuesday, 6:40 PM: Ivan Nova (4.49 FIP) vs. James Shields (3.09 FIP)
This week, the second place New York Yankees come to town to face the the first place Tampa Bay Rays, the defending AL East Champs. How awesome does that sound?
This series looks to be the first real test of the season for the Rays. You might balk at that statement and I'd totally understand - isn't coming back from a 1-8 hole without Longoria enough of a test? - but the Rays have only had two games against the Red Sox so far this year, and have yet to face the Yankees. I wouldn't call the Rays' schedule "easy" so far*, but no matter how you look at it, the Orioles, Blue Jays, Twins, Angels, White Sox, and Indians aren't the same as the Yanks and Red Sox.
*I'm going back and forth on this point: have the Rays had an easy schedule this season? Going into the year, we expected the Twins and White Sox to be competing for the Central crown, and for the Orioles and Blue Jays to be even stronger and better than last season. Even though these four teams have slumped so far this season, does that make the Rays' wins against them any less impressive? The Angels and Indians are leading their divisions and weren't necessarily easy match ups either, so I think you can make the case that the Rays have had a tougher schedule than you'd think from looking at the records of the teams they've faced.
The Yankees are about what you'd expect them to be: they're a high offense club (.348 wOBA, second best in majors) that also has a decent pitching staff (3.86 FIP, 15th in majors). Their offense has been carried by Curtis Granderson (.417 wOBA) and Mark Teixeira (.398 wOBA), but Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and Russell Martin have also been performing well so far this season. Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, and Jorge Posada are all slumping and have wOBAs under .300, which just goes to show you how deep and strong the Yanks' lineup is.
With how Granderson is performing, I'm really glad the Trop suppresses left-handed power. I'm also glad we have David Price starting this series and Cesar Ramos ready to go in the bullpen late in the game.
The Yankees have a great bullpen - notwithstanding Rafael Soriano's issues - but their starting rotation is really their Achilles heel. C.C. Sabathia is an ace, but the rest of the staff is a bunch of question marks. They've gotten lucky so far and received unsustainable performances from A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and Bartolo Colon, but I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The Rays have the pitching advantage and are playing at home; it seems silly to call these must win games, but the Rays really should at least split this series. They'll need to get to the Yankees' starters, but that should be doable in both cases. Strap on tight - this should be a fun series.