To kick-off the second-half of the baseball season the New York Yankees will play host to the Tampa Bay Rays
It is the number one team vs. the number two team of not only the AL East, but all of the MLB.
Entering the All-Star break the Yankees lead the Rays by two games, but this series will be watched because it will set a tone for the two teams. It's a great reality check for the Rays to show their stuff, as this battle might go down to the wire.
Pitching will dictate the series, so let's break down the two AL East Rival weekend matchups:
CC Sabathia vs. James Shields
Sabathia has won his last eight starts, pitching a minimum of seven innings and a 2.37 ERA. Sabathia has 12 wins this season and at the break was the best pitcher in the AL. Sabathia is historically better in the second-half, so expect big things for the ace.
Sabathia will face James Shields who has not had the best first half with a 7-9 record and an ERA of 4.20. Shields has 109 strikeouts and issued only 26 walks. That makes for a great strikeouts to walks ratio, which shows the youngster has the stuff to be much better.
Winner: CC SABATHIA has the advantage as everything from his velocity to his location is working great. The Yankee bats cannot go silent, as Yankees middle relievers tend to give up runs.
AJ Burnett vs. Jeff Niemann
Burnett is 7-7 with a 4.75 ERA so far, but it is no secret that he is fresh off his worst down period in his career. Burnett has to continue using his changeup more. Last time Burnett faced the Rays was not pretty, but it's a waiting game to see what Burnett we will get.
Niemann has been the Rays most consistent pitcher with a 2.77 ERA and a record of 7-2. He has thrown one complete game and one shut-out this season, of his 36 earned runs, 14 were home-runs. Niemann did exit his last start early due to back stiffness, but is supposedly on target to go on Saturday. Neimann tends to slow down in the second-half of the season, but not by much.
Winner: JEFF NEIMANN is a more stable bet than Burnett because which AJ will show-up is getting harder to predict. If Neimann cannot make the start due to his back or AJ is throwing heat this could easily flip-flop.
Andy Pettitte vs. David Price
Pettitte is putting together a career season. He is 11-2 with a 2.70 ERA. In his career against the Rays, Pettitte has struggled as batters are hitting .292. Don't forget that Pettitte is a clutch performer, so pitching the third game in the series is to his advantage.
Price is the Rays ace, with 12 wins and a 2.56 ERA this season. Earlier this season Price beat the Yankees, but that was early May and the Yankees bats were hot before the break and tend to scorch the second-half. Keep your eye on Mark Teixeira especially, but Price needs to mix-up his pitches to keep the Yankees on their toes.
Winner: ANDY PETTITTE but this depends on the results of first two games. If the games are spilt or the Yankees have lost two games prior, Pettitte will make the Rays pay the price. Also, Pettitte shuts down teams running games completely, so stealing won't be a factor in this game.
Yankees love the second-half of the season, so this is the Rays series to prove themselves. The Yankees are in first place and I predict they will remain atop.
Crawford has not been 100% which has slowed him down. Also, outfielder BJ Upton has been lazy which is never a good sign for such a young player on a contending ball-club.
Mark Teixeira is on fire, which the Rays haven't seen this season yet. Watch for Tex, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano to be big in Yankees success. Also, Brett Gardner needs to get his running sneakers on to pester the Rays pitchers.
Yankees win series taking two of three games.
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