New York Yankees (3-3) @ Tampa Bay Rays (3-3)

Monday – 7:10pm, TV – YES, Radio – CBS 880

Tuesday 7:10pm, TV – MY9, Radio – CBS 880

Wednesday 4:10pm, TV – YES, Radio CBS 880

Preview:

After evening out their record at 3-3 after taking 2 of 3 from the Royals in Kansas City, the Yankees head back Tampa to take part in their third Opening Day.  After losing the first two games of the season, the Yankees rode a three game win streak into Sunday night’s 8th inning loss.

Tampa Bay comes in to this series in almost the exact opposite way.  After taking 2 of 3 from the Red Sox, the Rays traveled to Baltimore and lost 2 of 3 against the Orioles.  However, like the Yankees in the series before them, the Rays lost the first two, but took the third game in a pretty resounding fashion, 11-3.

Although the season is young, both teams appear to be equal at this point, outside of run production where the Yankees have trounced the Rays.  The teams have an equal record, and both are among the top 8 teams in the AL in batting average, on-base percentage, runs scored, and slugging percentage.  The Rays are #1 in stolen bases with 8, while the Yanks are ranked #3 with 6.

Both teams will throw some of their best pitchers at each other.  Take a look:

The Pitching Matchups

Monday: RHP Chien-Ming Wang (0-1, 17.18 ERA) vs. LHP Scott Kazmir (1-0, 1.50 ERA)

Tuesday: RHP AJ Burnett (1-0, 3.38 ERA) vs. RHP Matt Garza (1-0, 1.29 ERA)

Wednesday: LHP Andy Pettitte (1-0), 1.29 ERA) vs. RHP Andy Sonnanstine (0-1, 9.64 ERA)

Who’s Hot

Rays: Scott Kazmir – Kazmir effectively shut down the Red Sox offense in a resounding 7-2 win, holding them to 5 hits over six innings with 5 K’s and that obviously boosts a pitcher’s confidence.  I don’t know if it will be enough to beat the Yankees.  Kazmir was 2-1 in 3 starts against the Bronx Bombers last season, and although he got a reputation as a dominating pitcher, he was below average last postseason and never made it past eight innings of work the entire regular season.  In fact, in most outings he was out before the seventh inning began.  However, the Rays were the top team in the AL last season at home and Kazmir was a big part of that, going 8-2 with a 2.90 ERA.

Evan Longoria – The sophomore third baseman is on a hot streak right now.  He leads the AL with 5 homeruns, and is hitting .481 with a on-base percentage of .481.  He is also responsible for almost half of the Ray’s runs this season with 10 RBI and 5 runs scored.  Longoria is getting on base a lot and getting the Rays batters behind him to hit when he is on base.

Yankees: Nick Swisher – Swish wasn’t even slated to be a starter this season after the Yankees signed free agent Mark Teixeira.  With Teixeira’s gold glove at 1B, Swisher became expendable and was going to be a pinch hitter for skipper Joe Girardi.  Furthermore, I will be the first to admit I was wrong about Swish.  When the Yankees first announced they traded Wilson Bettimet for Swish, I though it would end up being a bad decision.  Swish was coming off a horrible season last year with the White Sox and didn’t seem worth it.  Boy was I wrong.

After coming off the bench as a pinch hitter in the first two games against the Orioles, Swish hit a double and got a walk, respectively.  That earned a start in RF for the third game.  Hitting sixth in the lineup, Swisher was 3-5 with 5 RBI’s and was the catalyst to a 11-2 victory to prevent a sweep by Baltimore.

That earned him starts the next three games at Kansas City.  In those six games, Swish is hitting .471 with a .550 OBP and 1.118 slugging percentage.  He also leads the team in HR (2), RBI (9) and runs scored (7).

Robinson Cano – Cano has been just as good as Nick Swisher at the plate and has really showed Yankee fans that he deserves a long-term spot on this team.  After a horrid offensive output last season, Cano set off in the offseason to get back his swing and his hitting prowess.  Cano is hitting .409 with an OBP of .500 and 4 RBI.

Who’s Not

Rays: Pat Burrell – The offseason acquisition at DH has failed to provide the Rays with any offense, managing only a .200 average (4-20) in six games.

Yankees: Jose Veras and Phil Coke – After 4 straight solid outings, the bullpen has faltered in recent games, mostly the work of Phil Coke and Jose Veras.  These two are responsible for the only runs allowed by the bullpen so far this season and cost the Yankees a shutout Saturday night and a win Sunday afternoon.

Hideki Matsui – Godzilla has looked more like my leopard gecko at the plate this season then the hitter we all knew him as.  I would give Matsui the start tonight, but if he doesn’t go at least 1-3, then I would throw him over to extended spring training for some more work and put someone else, like Nick Swisher in the DH role.  At a minimum, he needs to be moved out of the cleanup spot.  The Yanks have lost too many runs with his poor offensive output.

Keys to Winning the Series

Rays: The Rays will need to kick up their offense a little bit to keep up with the Yankees, but will also need to keep up the great defense they were known for last season.  Despite only scoring their third highest run total ever last season, the Rays still managed to clinch the AL East.  They did it with a stifling defense.  If the Rays can shut down Swisher, Cano and company the Rays can win the series.

Yankees: Pitching – Plain and simple, the Yankees need dominant and consistent pitching.  The offense has mostly been doing its job, scoring almost 6 runs a game on average.  However, the pitching staff has been allowing just over 4.5 runs a game.  If Wang can get his control back, and Burnett and Pettitte can recreate their dominant starts from last week, the Yankees can take the series.

Notes: Mark Teixeira is rumored to still be out with tendinitis in his left wrist…Alex Rodriguez will be at tonight’s game.  He has been in Tampa all week.  Yankees beat writer Peter Abraham has reported that the Yankees have not been talking about A-Rod in the clubhouse, that Joe Girardi only seems to get occasional text messages and that the only person who seems to be in regular contact with him is hitting coach Kevin Long.