The Yankees and Rays enter this weekend's three-game series in St. Petersburg in pretty much the same position they've been all season—holding the two best records in baseball.
But this set ends in August, and games become a little bit more important in August.
New York (65-36) currently holds a two-game advantage over Tampa Bay (63-38) in the American League East, but that could all change if the Rays pull off a sweep.
Let's take a look at the pitching matchups.
Friday, July 30: Phil Hughes (12-3, 4.04) vs. Wade Davis (8-9, 4.32)
Hughes has a 6.52 ERA over the five starts that he's made since having his turn skipped in the rotation in late June. That time period also coincides with the point when the right-hander eclipsed his previous high for innings pitched in a season, which was 86.
But we all knew this was inevitable when the Yankees spent all of last year building up Joba Chamberlain's arm strength only to hand the fifth starter's spot to Hughes, who had far fewer innings under his belt.
The 24-year-old has managed to avoid pitching against the Rays this year, but is 2-1 with a 4.20 ERA in seven career appearances (two starts) versus them. He has allowed two earned runs in 7.2 frames at Tropicana Field.
The Tampa Bay roster is 8-for-24 (.333) off Hughes. Carlos Pena has been particularly troublesome, smacking two home runs and walking three times in six plate appearances.
After losing all five of his starts in June, Davis has rebounded to win three straight starts. But keep in mind, those triumphs were over Cleveland and Baltimore.
The right-hander is 1-1 with a 4.63 ERA in two starts against the Yankees this year. He yielded four runs over six innings in a 10-0 home loss on April 10, but gave up just two runs and struck out seven through 5.2 in a 10-6 win at Yankee Stadium on May 19.
Against Davis, Derek Jeter is 4-for-9 (.444), Alex Rodriguez—still searching for that elusive 600th home run—is 4-for-8 (.500) with two home runs, and Robinson Cano is 3-for-8 (.375) with a blast. Mark Teixeira, however, is 1-for-7 (.143) with three strikeouts.
Saturday, July 31: Javier Vazquez (9-7, 4.54) vs. Matt Garza (11-5, 4.06)
Vazquez continued his run of good performances against the National League and bad AL teams during his last outing, when he held the Indians to two runs over seven innings.
But overall, the right-hander has a 5.05 ERA against the AL and a 5.43 versus teams with winning records. The Rays fit into both of those categories.
Vazquez surrendered eight runs and 11 baserunners over 5.2 innings in a 9-3 loss at Tampa Bay on April 9. He is 5-5 with a 4.94 ERA in 13 career starts against the Rays and 3-3 with a 5.36 at Tropicana Field.
Carl Crawford is 11-for-29 (.379) with five extra-base hits off Vazquez, but that's nothing compared to B.J. Upton's 8-for-15 (.533). Upton is dealing with an ankle injury but could return on Saturday, just in time to face his whipping boy.
Vazquez, however, has had success against Pena, limiting the slugger to just three hits in 19 at-bats (.158) with 10 strikeouts, but two of those three hits have been homers.
Garza tossed the first no-hitter in Rays history, and the fifth in baseball this season, during his last outing against the Tigers. The other four pitchers to make history this year are 3-1 with a 3.29 ERA in their following starts.
The right-hander has pitched well against the Yankees in the past. Despite a 1-3 record, he has a 3.26 ERA in nine career appearances (eight starts).
Curtis Granderson's run of good at-bats will be tested, as he is just 4-for-17 (.235) with four strikeouts facing Garza. The same is true for Teixeira, who is 1-for-13 (.077). A-Rod, however, is 7-for-15 (.467).
Sunday, Aug. 1: CC Sabathia (13-4, 3.15) vs. James Shields (9-9, 4.79)
In a difficult series, this will definitely be the Yankees' best chance of picking up a win. A lack of run support and two errors behind him snapped Sabathia's string of nine consecutive victorious decisions in a 4-1 defeat at Cleveland on Tuesday.
He'll look to bounce back against the Rays, a team he shut out on one hit over 7.2 innings on April 10 and held to three earned runs in a seven-inning no-decision on July 16.
The big lefty is 8-3 with a 3.03 ERA in 17 starts versus Tampa Bay, but a more pedestrian 3-3 with a 4.27 in St. Petersburg.
Jason Bartlett (13-for-41, .317), Upton (7-for-20, .350, .850 slg), Ben Zobrist (7-for-20, .350), and Evan Longoria (4-for-11, .364, two HR) have all had success against Sabathia. But Pena (4-for-32, .125, 17 K) and Willy Aybar (2-for-11, .182) have not.
Shields has looked better over his last three starts, going 2-0 with a 4.26 ERA, but he continues to give up too many home runs, including the two he surrendered to the Yankees in a six-inning, three-run no-decision in the Bronx on July 16.
Overall, the right-hander is 1-0 with a 3.86 in three outings against the Bombers this season, but is 2-7 with a 5.45 mark in 12 lifetime starts.
Jeter is 14-for-40 (.350) off him, and Cano is 14-for-32 (.438) with an astronomical .969 slugging percentage. Teixeira, on the other hand, is just 4-for-25 (.160) with 11 strikeouts, A-Rod is 5-for-23 (.217) with a homer, and Granderson is 2-for-23 (.087).
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Jordan Schwartz is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com.
Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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