Series Preview: Devil Rays(23-44) @ Yankees(40-28)

Most may not remember it, but the Devil Rays were the first team to beat the Yankees in the 2003 season. In the second game of their three-game series in early April, the D-Rays came from behind to beat New York 6-5. The Yankees took the rubber match of that series then split a washed-out series with them at The Stadium. Tampa returns to New York this week for a four-game three-day series against the sparking Yankees.

The Yankees have now won four straight since being no-hit by Houston and they've been firing on all cylinders. The starting pitching has been excellent, highlighted by Roger Clemens' 300th victory. The offense has surged behind the white-hot Hideki Matsui, who is on some kind of tear. Over his last 11 games, Godzilla is batting .600 (24/40) with three homeruns and 12 RBI. He is joined by Jason Giambi, who seems to be finding his groove after starting off the season dismally. Giambi is hitting .314 (11/35) over his last 11 games, with five homeruns and 12 RBI. .314 may not seem like much, but the slugging first baseman has raised his average to .242, a vast improvement from the .200 that he was hovering around for the better part of the season.

New York is coming off a three-game sweep for the St. Louis Cardinals, a tough team by anyone's measure, and should be able to handle whatever the Devil Rays may throw at them. With a .343 winning percentage, Tampa Bay is the league's third-worst team, behind only Detroit and San Diego. The lowly Devil Rays have yet to put together a win-streak of longer than two games all season, something that prompted manager Lou Piniella to offer them some incentive to do so. The fiery and serious manager offered to die his hair any color should the team put together a three-game winning streak. Facing off with a division rival could put a little bounce in the step of Tampa.

For all their troubles, the Devil Rays are not a horrendous team like in years past. Rocco Baldelli leads the squad with a .322 batting average, and Aubrey Huff is batting .304 with 15 homeruns. Tampa Bay also expects Rey Ordonez to return to the lineup for the series. Ordonez, since being traded to Tampa from the Mets, has been putting up solid numbers. Before going on the disabled list on May 10, Ordonez was hitting .316 with three homeruns and 22 RBI in 34 games.

The Rays also have speed on their side. Baldelli and Marlon Anderson each have nine stolen bases and Carl Crawford leads the team with 15 swipes. Tampa also has a few good arms in their bullpen. Closer Lance Carter has 11 saves in 15 chances and a 2.80 ERA, and Al Levine has a 1.60 ERA in 33.2 innings pitched.

One of the keys for this series will be how each team handles Tuesday's double-header. Neither team has a very deep bullpen, so should either of them be forced to use their best arms in too many games, it could have repercussions on the rest of the series. The Yankees should have no problem taking at least three games from the floundering Rays, but Tampa Bay should not be taken lightly. In Baldelli and Huff, they have some explosive hitters. If the Yankees play this series professionally, which they almost always do, they should have no trouble.

Yankees Home Record: 18-16
Devil Rays Road Record: 10-23

Pitching Probables:

Tuesday Game One: Dewon Brazelton (RHP, 1-5, 6.75) vs. Jeff Weaver (RHP, 3-5, 5.45)
The 23-year-old Brazelton will be making just his 11th career appearance against a veteran Yankee team. Brazelton's numbers aren't very pretty, but he displays a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a good changeup. He is also very large, standing in at 6'4" and 214lbs. Brazelton doesn't strike hitters out right now, and he has allowed opponents to hit .282 off of him. In his last outing, he was banged around by Cincinnati for six runs in five innings.
Weaver will be making his second start since rejoining the rotation when Jose Contreras was injured. In his previous start, Weaver was tagged for 10 hits and five runs in 6 1/3 innings against Houston. On a bright note, Weaver has allowed just three walks in his last 20 innings, a sign that his command is improving. This will be a big start for Weaver, who is re-auditioning for his job in Contreras' absence. In his career against Tampa, he is just 4-6 with a 4.68 ERA in 13 games.

Tuesday Game Two: Jeremi Gonzalez (RHP, 2-2, 3.25) vs. David Wells (LHP, 8-2, 3.63)
Since joining the team in mid-May, Gonzalez has been the D-Rays' best pitcher. In six starts Gonzalez hasn't allowed more than four runs and he has struck out 31 batters in 36 innings. He has turned into a fly ball pitcher this season, allowing almost twice as many fly balls as ground balls, something that might hurt him against the homer-happy Yankees.
Wells turned in one of his less-than-stellar performances in his last outing against Houston. Boomer allowed five runs on ten hits through six innings and walked a batter for the first time since May 19. Wells owns terrific career numbers against Tampa however, with a 6-1 record and a 2.98 ERA in 10 starts. Additionally, Wells is known for his ability to pitch into the late innings, something that is extra-helpful in a double-header.

Wednesday: Victor Zambrano (RHP, 3-4, 4.38) vs. Roger Clemens (RHP, 7-4, 3.73)
Zambrano has been extremely effective since rejoining Lou Piniella's rotation four starts ago, putting up a 2-2 record with a 2.03 ERA. In his last outing, he held the Pirates to one hit and one run over seven innings, but he did walk five batters. In a strange case of statistics, Zambrano has excellent numbers against every Yankee batter except Alfonso Soriano. Yankees not named Soriano are hitting .160 against him, but Soriano is hitting a whopping .611 off of him. Statistics are fun.
With his 300th victory finally behind him, Clemens can stop trying too hard and just be himself. Clemens grabbed the elusive win, along with his 4,000th career strikeout in his last start against the Cardinals. In his last start against Tampa, Clemens pitched seven innings and allowed just one run, but didn't get the win because Juan Acevedo allowed a run in the ninth inning to give Tampa the victory.

Thursday: Rob Bell (RHP, 0-1, 16.20) vs. Andy Pettitte (LHP, 6-6, 5.09)
Bell was roughed up by the Pirates in his first start of the season on June 14. He allowed six runs in 3 1/3 innings and took the loss. Bell came up with Texas with a nasty curveball, but he had troubles actually throwing the curve – as well as his changeup – limiting his list of effective pitches to a fastball. Without a reliable repertoire, Bell won't get very far against the Yankees.
Pettitte bounced back from one of his worst starts ever with an excellent outing against the Cardinals on Saturday. The southpaw lasted seven innings and struck out eight batters while allowing just two runs on five hits. In his career against Tampa Bay, Pettitte is 9-1 with a 3.03 ERA in 15 appearances.

Notes: Utility player Damian Rolls rejoined the Devil Rays on Friday. He had broken his thumb back on April 22 … TB RHP Seth McClung may need to undergo Tommy John surgery. McClung was 4-1 with a 5.35 ERA for Tampa this season, but hasn't pitched since May 22 … The Yankees are 38-17 against Tampa Bay since the Rays joined the league in 1998.

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