We already knew about the Rays after their successful run that all but fell short last year. Now, there's a fourth team in the AL East mix with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, and they're based in Toronto.
Both teams are coming off their interleague games against a very weak NL East. The Rays inflated their record while the Jays missed a golden opportunity to move up the standings.
June 29, Game 1: Jeff Niemann (6-4, 4.23 ERA) v. Roy Halladay (10-1, 2.53 ERA)
The Rays get to face the Doc fresh off the disabled list. Roy Halladay threw a 50-pitch bullpen session, where he felt fine. Halladay was arguably the frontrunner for the Cy Young before he went down with a groin problem.
On the Rays' side, Jeff Niemann will be pitching. Niemann has not been effective in his last three starts, as he hasn't made it past the fifth inning. In those three starts, he has a 6.93 ERA while giving up 15 hits and nine walks over 12 2/3 innings.
In his career, Halladay is 7-4 with a 3.74 ERA against the Rays, while Niemann has never faced the Jays. The question that will determine this pitching matchup is Halladay's health. If his groin doesn't nag him, the Jays will win.
Look for the top the of the Rays lineup to be effective. BJ Upton and Carl Crawford have a combined .299 batting average and two home runs against Halladay. Longoria has also been effective, garnering eight RBI in 11 at-bats against Halladay.
On the Jays' side, the Rays have to watch out for Adam Lind, Aaron Hill, and Scott Rolen, who all have batted over .345 and have an OPS over 1.000 in the past six games. They have also combined for six homers, 17 RBI, and 48 total bases in that span.
Prediction: Jays 6, Rays 3—Look for Halladay to continue his dominance that we saw before the DL stint. The Rays will put up a fight near the end, but a rally will fall short.
June 30, Game 2: Scott Richmond (6-4, 3.68 ERA) v. Matt Garza (5-5, 3.61 ERA)
Both Scott Richmond and Matt Garza are coming off stellar performances. Richmond has been more consistent of late, but we all know that when Garza needs to pitch well, he will.
In his last start against the Reds, Richmond yielded only two earned runs on two hits over seven innings. In Garza's last start against the Phillies, he went eight innings yielding one earned run over hits. Garza continued his workhorse trend, throwing 117 pitches.
Richmond didn't fare well against the Rays the only time he faced them. He is 0-1 with a 5.01 ERA against the Rays. Garza has been effective against the Jays in his career. Garza is 3-3 with a 1.99 ERA in six games. More impressive is his 0.79 ERA in the Rogers Centre.
Look for Lyle Overbay and Marco Scutaro to get on base against Garza, going a combined 10-for-36 against Garza. On the other side of things, look for the Rays to dominate Richmond. The Rays collective offense against Richmond comprises of .300 batting average.
Prediction: Rays 7, Jays 2—The Rays will get to and chase Scott Richmond out of the game early, while Matt Garza will be effective and last late into the game. The Jays offense will disappear, yet again.
June 31, Game 3: James Shields (6-5, 3.41 ERA) v. Ricky Romero (5-3, 3.20 ERA)
What a pitching matchup we will see here. James Shields is a workhorse, having gone past the sixth inning in each of his last eight starts. Ricky Romero has been a sensational rookie, hurling five straight quality starts.
In his last start against the Marlins, Shields didn't have his best stuff. He only yielded three earned runs, but it was on nine hits over 6 2/3 innings. In Romero's last start, he dominated a potent Phillies offense, yielding zero earned runs and two hits over seven innings.
The Rays obviously haven't faced Romero yet, which could work to his advantage. In his career, Shields has been brilliant against the Jays with a 4-2 record and 3.07 ERA, although he has failed to ever win at the Rogers Centre.
Look for Lyle Overbay to continue his success against James Shields, whom he has a .350 average and two home runs against. Also look for Aaron Hill to continue his streak, as he has a 1.091 OPS in eleven at-bats against Shields.
Prediction: Jays 5, Rays 4—The Jays will wrap up with a series win. It will be a great starting pitching battle, but the game will ultimately come down to the bullpen play. Both closers (JP Howell and Scott Downs) have been great.
FINAL THOUGHT: Both of these teams are good. If they were in any other division, they would be a huge success. They will be jockeying for position while the Yankees get to face the Mariners and the Red Sox get to face the Orioles. A sweep would help make up ground for either team, but that's unlikely.