With the summer slipping into August this weekend, the baseball pennant races start to take shape with more meaningful games over the next two months. What better way to start building the momentum than with the two best teams in baseball. The first place New York Yankees (65-36, +7.8 units) head south to visit Tampa Bay (63-38, +6.5), who trails by two games in the loss column.
The atmosphere should be electric with all three games sold out and for New York; they have other side bar stories. This is the Yankees first team visit since the passing of George Steinbrenner who resided in Tampa. Alex Rodriguez will continue his elusive quest for home run No. 600. When asked if he feels pressure after failing to connect for a long ball in seven straight games, A-Rod answered this way. “We’re winning, so this is fun,” Rodriguez said. “I’m focusing on something more important: a pennant race.”
The Rays picked the right time to get hot having won six in a row and a continuation of such play would jettison them into first place by the end of the weekend. “I’m sure there’s going to be a vibe,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “They’re playing well. We’re playing well. It’s going to be interesting. I know we’re going to be excited to play.”
The pitching matchup has two young hurlers. Phil Hughes (12-3, 4.04 ERA), after a brilliant start has had rocky moments of late, being tagged for five runs or more in three of previous five starts. Location has been Hughes downfall and the Yankees are only 14-16 (-11.5 Units) against the money line with an on-base percentage of .360 or better over their last 15 games. Online sports betting outlets have New York as -107 ML wager, as the Yankees seem to thrive against top notch competition with a 12-3 record in road games when playing against teams with a 62% or higher win percentage in the second half of the season.
Tampa Bay is 100-48 in home games against right-handed starters the past three seasons and sends Wade Davis (8-9, 4.32) up the hill. Davis has gotten in a nice groove with three consecutive victories and 2.11 ERA. “Every series is important, but this is a big series for us to go out and win some games against them to stay up there with them,” Davis told the Rays’ official website. “If we can do that, then we’ll be in a good situation.” The right-hander is 1-1 with a 4.63 ERA in two starts against New York this year and A-Rod has two jacks off of him.
Game 1 Edge: New York
The Rays are hoping outfielders B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist are close to 100 percent after missing time this week with sprained ankle and lower back stiffness respectively, getting ready for New York. The second game of the series will also feature Matt “no-hitter” Garza (11-5. 4.08), who faced the minimum 27 batters (one walk) his last time out. Garza was able to work effectively up in the strike zone against depleted Detroit lineup. Tampa Bay is 8-2 in Garza’s starts at Tropicana Field, where they have won 10 of 11 coming into the series.
The Bronx Bombers arrive in St. Pete’s having won eight of 11 and have split eight meetings with the Rays. Manager Joe Girardi’s club began the series 31-20 in the visiting gray uniforms, thanks to being victorious in 16 of last 21 contests. Javier Vazquez (9-7, 4.54) started the season on shaky ground, but has since stabilized with 8-3 mark and 3.16 ERA. The Yanks are 36-16 in last 52 and have won four of last five Vazquez road starts. The Yankees right-hander is 5-5 (4.71) in last 10 starting assignments against Tampa Bay, with Carl Crawford batting .368 against him since 2006. Garza is 1-3 (3.26) vs New York and A-Rod (.467) and Nick Swisher (.500) have been the most troublesome batters he faces from that lineup.
Game 2 Edge: Tampa Bay
The series finale from the Trop has C.C. Sabathia (13-4, 3.15) on a major roll. The big left-hander is 8-1 with 2.10 ERA in last 10 outings and is 14-4 in August of late. He’s been tough all year on right-hand hitters, as they are batting only .234 against him. New York plays great all the time including during the day, with 25-12 record as they prepare for this TBS 1:30 Eastern tilt.
Tampa Bay will start James Shields (9-9, 4.79) who also possess quality August numbers with a 12-6 record. Shields has to start missing more bats, with opponents hitting .281 against him (.266 lifetime) and he is on career path for home runs allowed, already being taken deep 22 times. The Rays are equally effective in day games with 20-10 record and are 11-9 to commence the weekend as underdogs.
Game 3 Edge: New York
New York has won 26 of last 44 conflicts between these teams and is 12-9 at the Trop the past three years. Both teams are at the top of their games, both respecting, but do not fearing the other, which makes for fascinating series.
I’ve hit five straight weekend series wagers and though I’d like to see Tampa Bay win, I’m betting New York and here is why. Sometime next season I’ll write an article about this, but the Rays have double digit hits just once in past seven tries, which has me believing they are living off of great pitching. New York can match Tampa Bay in this area and shutdown their attack. Coincidently, the Yankees have nine or more base knocks in seven of previous nine games, suggesting they will score more runs and takes the series.
Sportsbooks series odds: New York -120, Tampa Bay -110
3Daily Winners Pick: New York