Ray-fan has two explanations ready to go following a series with the Yankees. If you listen to Tampa Bay local AM radio sports-blather as religiously as I do, you get to a point where you can commit the following themes to memory. After a Rays victory; “Yankees bad, payroll too high, bad for baseball, Joe Maddon crazy for screwing with the lineup.” Following a Rays’ victory, “Rays virtuous, Yankees evil, payroll references conspicuously absent, great player development, Joe Maddon a genius for messing with the payroll.” What do you expect? This is a football town.
Such are the fortunes of baseball. But if you delve beneath the surface of local Tampa Bay AM sports-blather, a rather different picture emerges from this past series. First, there are the creepy – coincidences;
The Rays have the 27th-worst batting average in baseball. The Yankees have the 27th-lowest team strikeouts. The ’27 Yankees are generally considered the greatest team in baseball history. In this latest series, the Yankees outscored the Rays 14-8 (if you combine those run tallies together, then add five, it equals 27). Creepy.
Then there are the facts which make no sense outside the parameters of this burgeoning rivalry. Consider that Ivan Nova is undefeated against the Rays whereas C.C. Sabathia is one-and-six against David Price. Ivan Nova gave up four hits and one run in eight innings for a 1.13 ERA on Wednesday night. On Thursday night, Sabathia pitched well enough to win, striking out 12 and pitching a quality start, but lost, owing to a lack of run support and two errors on Alex Rodriguez. If I was Joe Girardi, or more preferably, if Mark Panuthos were managing the Yankees and Joe Girardi was sitting at home late at night, in his batman pajamas, typing up his blog following a Yankees loss, I would alter my pitching rotation to match any other Yankee pitcher against Price. Garcia or Hughes perhaps, but I’d even consider pitching Nick Swisher again (who pitched in the last innings of the 2009 Rays opening day 22-5 defeat of Chen Ming Wang and the Yankees). David Price was pulled after a 38-pitch fifth inning, which featured an epic, 11-pitch, confrontation between Price and A-Rod. By epic, by the way, I mean “typical” in that A-Rod struck out, with the bases loaded, thereby removing any confusion between him and a clutch hitter.
The Tampa Bay Times attributed the Rays’ victory on Thursday night to Joe Maddon’s “New Look” lineup, in which the strategy was to pit more right-handed batters against Sabathia. In fact, the main difference was batting Desmond Jennings third and BJ Upton fourth. He led off with Carlos Pena and caught Jose Lobaton instead of Jose Molina. A birds’ eye glance at the stats makes it look like the strategy works, as Yankee pitchers gave up 10 hits to the 27th worst team in terms of batting average. On the other hand, Sabathia pitched a quality start, and got no run support.
The Yankees hit James Shields for seven hits and seven runs on Tuesday night, five of them charged to Shields. His ERA versus the Yankees on that night was 9.00. Andy Pettitte meanwhile gave up two hits and no runs in 7.1 innings pitched. A quick perusal of Pitch f/x reveals that his fastball never breached 90 mph. His was less a performance than a dissection of the Rays and his command less precise than Surgical. On a side note to Brian Cashman – I know you read my stuff! If you must have an ex-Rays pitcher, please give up on Matt Garza and focus on James Shields who becomes a free agent after this year. He’s solid, led the majors in complete games last year (16), and is about as intense a pitcher as there is in baseball.
Speaking of creepy, Alex Cobb scared me. The guy is simply awesome. He pitched only once from the stretch in seven innings, giving up solo homeruns to a resurgent Mark Teixeira and the ever-dangerous Curtis Granderson. Rays’ catcher Jose Molina picked off Alex Rodriguez at first base, ensuring that Curtis Granderson’s homerun would only be a solo shot. Watch out for Cobb down the line. He didn’t even go to his curveball until the 4th inning and pitched into the 8th inning. By the way, kudos to Joe Maddon for baptizing Cobb this way, in a close, pre-All Star break game at Yankee stadium.
As of now, the Rays lead the head-to-head series 5-4. We next play the Rays July 2-4th. If Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova are pitching during that series, we’re in great shape. And as long as we don’t match Sabathia with Price, it could even be a sweep.