Standing three hits shy of 3,000 for his career, Derek Jeter's last chance to accomplish the milestone at home comes this weekend as the Yankees host the Rays for four games before the All-Star break and an eight-game road trip.
But there's more on the line in this series. New York has played its division rival just twice heading in, meaning there are 16 meetings scheduled over the final 77 games, including eight in the next two weeks.
The Bombers have proven that they can beat up on the National League and American League foes, such as Baltimore, Oakland and Texas, but the true test comes when they play the Red Sox (1-8) and Rays (1-1).
Let's take a look at the pitching match-ups:
Thursday, July 7—Bartolo Colon (6-3, 2.88 ERA) vs. Jeff Niemann (3-4, 5.05 ERA)
Colon continued his outstanding season on Saturday with six scoreless innings against the Mets in his return from the disabled list. The 38-year-old is 4-0 with a 1.00 ERA over his last four starts.
Colon has a great record against the Rays, too, going 9-2 with a 3.63 mark in 18 career outings, but he hasn't faced many of their current players, other than Johnny Damon, who is 18-for-51 (.353). The good news for Colon is that Damon could miss the opener with a hand bruise.
Niemann is having a rough season, but he pitched well in his last start, allowing just one run over six innings to beat the Cardinals.
The right-hander is 2-0 with a 3.74 ERA in four career outings against the Yankees, including a 1-0 record and 3.78 mark in three tries in the Bronx.
Jeter has had 254 games with at least three hits, including two this season, and with a 5-for-9 (.556) lifetime mark versus Niemann, he may waste little time reaching 3,000.
Niemann, however, has had success against Mark Teixeira (2-for-11, .182), Nick Swisher (2-for-12, .167), Curtis Granderson (1-for-10) and Robinson Cano (2-for-10).
Friday, July 8—Freddy Garcia (7-6, 3.13 ERA) vs. Jeremy Hellickson (8-7, 3.21 ERA)
Garcia turned in his fifth-consecutive quality start on Sunday, when he limited the Mets to just one run over seven innings. But for some reason, Joe Girardi decided to pull his starter after only 82 pitches and the Yankees blew the lead and lost the game.
Garcia is 8-2 with a 3.56 ERA in 15 starts against the Rays. Again, Damon has the most experience facing him, going 15-for-60 (.250) with four homers, but the rest of the roster has just 31 combined at-bats against the right-hander.
In his last start, Hellickson yielded three runs over seven-and-one-third innings in an 8-3 win over the Cardinals, but prior to that, the Rays had provided him with just one total run of support over his previous four starts.
The young right-hander doesn't give up a lot of hits, but his problem is too many walks and not enough run support.
He has allowed two runs over three-and-two-thirds innings in two career relief appearances against the Yankees. Jeter is 1-for-2 off Hellickson.
Saturday, July 9—A.J. Burnett (8-7, 4.12 ERA) vs. David Price (8-7, 3.56 ERA)
Burnett was cruising through the first six innings in his last start against the Indians, before his defense failed him and he surrendered four runs in the seventh to take the loss.
The right-hander's second-worst start of the season came on May 16 at Tropicana Field, where he gave up six runs on three homers over five-and-two-thirds frames in a 6-5 loss to the Rays. That dropped him to 12-8 with a 3.36 ERA in 26 outings against Tampa Bay.
Evan Longoria is 13-for-35 (.371) off Burnett, but B.J. Upton is just 8-for-39 (.205) with 15 strikeouts.
Price has struck out 28 batters over his last three starts to climb to fourth in the league in that category.
This is a rematch of that May 16 game, in which Price also struggled, yielding five runs through five innings for a no-decision.
He is now 3-1 with a 3.88 ERA in nine games (eight starts) against the Yanks, but is just 1-1 with a 5.16 ERA in four outings at the new stadium.
You probably won't see Jorge Posada (1-for-18, .056, 10 K) in the lineup against the left-hander. Teixeira (3-for-22, .136) and Granderson (3-for-19, .158, 7 K) also struggle versus Price, but Swisher is 6-for-16 (.375) with a homer and five walks. Jeter is 6-for-25 (.240).
Sunday, July 10—C.C. Sabathia (12-4, 2.90 ERA) vs. James Shields (8-6, 2.47 ERA)
Sabathia is having a Cy Young Award-type season, winning his last five starts and nine of his last 10. Over his most recent three outings, he has allowed one run and struck out 33 in 22-and-two-thirds innings. Wow.
The big lefty is 8-5 with a 3.24 ERA in 20 starts against the Rays. He once again gets to pitch during the day, when he is 4-0 with a 1.77 ERA; the Yankees are a major league-best 24-5 this season.
Ben Zobrist is 8-for-25 (.320), Longoria is 6-for-19 (.316) with two homers and Upton is 9-for-30 (.300) with two blasts versus Sabathia, but Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez are a combined 2-for-14 with eight strikeouts.
Shields dealt three consecutive complete games in June, but has dropped in his last two starts. He allowed four runs (three earned) on eight hits, including two homers, over seven innings of a 6-2 loss to the Yankees on May 17.
The right-hander is 3-9 with a 4.83 ERA in 16 starts against the Bombers, including a 1-1 record and 5.30 mark at the new ballpark in the Bronx.
If Jeter hasn't reached 3,000 by this point, he should get it in the finale as he is 17-for-54 (.315) off Shields. Cano is 17-for-44 (.386) with three homers and Posada is 10-for-30 (.333), but Granderson is an incredible 3-for-35 (.086) with 11 strikeouts.
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