Series Preview: Devil Rays(58-86) @ Yankees(89-56)

The Devil Rays, once the whipping boys of the American League, have turned their season around and are playing like the good team that they're capable of becoming over the next few years. Lou Piniella's project comes to the Bronx for a four-game series with the Yankees looking to continue their winning ways against the AL East leaders.

The Devil Rays are 26-26 since the All-Star break and have begun to make a name for themselves as a team that won't go down without a serious fight. Led by Aubrey Huff (.314 BA, 30 HR, 98 RBI), the offense has some hitters than can do some serious damage. And once these Rays get on base, they can run all over the place. Carl Crawford leads the American League with 48 stolen bases and teammate Rocco Baldelli has 22 swipes of his own. Frankly, this is a team that can beat you in several different ways, so teams have to be careful not to underestimate them.

The Yankees are on a five-game win streak of their own after thoroughly handling the Detroit Tigers in a three-game series. After starting the first two games of the Boston series by allowing a combined 21 runs, the Yankee pitching has clamped down, allowing an average of 2.6 runs per game. Yankee bats have started to show some signs of life again after slumping, again.

Yankees Home Record: 44-30
Devil Rays Road Record: 24-45

Probable Pitchers:

Friday: Victor Zambrano (10-8, 4.17) vs. David Wells (13-6, 4.27)

Zambrano is just one of a few Tampa pitchers that are on something of a roll. In his last start, he completely dominated the Athletics, allowing just two runs over nine innings while striking eight batters. He didn't allow a walk – something of a major accomplishment for Zambrano – while earning his tenth win.

After being some kind of terrible for around a month and a half, Wells finally put together an excellent outing against the Red Sox, spurring the Yankees to a 3-1 victory and earning his own first win since July 19. If the Yanks are lucky, Wells will use that start as a turning point to get his season back on track for the final weeks.

Saturday: Rob Bell (4-3, 5.38) vs. Mike Mussina (16-7, 3.24)

Bell has been excessively consistent over his last seven starts, either allowing two or three runs in each of them. As such, he's put together a string of seven consecutive Quality Starts to help bring his ERA all the way down from 7.36. Most recently he had two almost identical starts against the Athletics, but he only earned a win in one of them.

Will Mike Mussina ever win 20 games in a season? It's not looking too good for him this year, as even getting four more starts might be a stretch, but it's been a fine season for the Moose nonetheless. He defeated the Blue Jays soundly in his last outing, holding them to three runs on seven hits in seven innings.

Saturday: Chad Gaudin (1-0, 3.62) vs. Jeff Weaver (7-9, 5.93)

Gaudin has bounced between the bullpen and the rotation for some of the year, and has compiled a 0-0 record with a 4.40 ERA as a starter. He picked up a no-decision in his last start against the Mariners on August 27, but pitched well.

Weaver gets another chance to start as part of the double header on Saturday. The right-hander hasn't started since picking up a win over the Royals on August 18. Since then, he's been banished to the bullpen where he has compiled an ERA of exactly 8.00 over the last few weeks.

Sunday: Doug Waechter (3-0, 2.08) vs. Jose Contreras (5-2, 4.40)

Waechter started his major-league career by making the Mariners his personal playthings. He earned a win in scoreless relief against them in his major-league debut, and then pitched a complete-game, two-hit shutout against them in his first start. In his last start, Toronto got to him for four runs in six innings, but Waechter earned the win nonetheless.

Contreras has been experiencing an ankle injury as the latest in a long series of ailments, but it shouldn't affect his status for Sunday. The big Cuban took an early exit against the Tigers in his last start, but has a 3.08 ERA in his last two outings.

Predictions and Prognostications:

Oddly, most of these pitching matchups actually favor the Devil Rays to some degree. This could turn into a very interesting series, with the D-Rays out to make a name for themselves and the Yankees looking to keep their heads above water in the AL East. This series could really go either way, but the Yankees need to earn at the very least a split in order to save face and their lead.

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