Series Preview: Yankees(28-18) @ Devil Rays(16-29)

Fresh off a sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, the red-hot Yankees and their red-hotter offense come to Tropicana Field for a three-game series with the Devil Rays. But don't look now, the last-place D-Rays are winners of six of their last seven games.

The Devil Rays haven't had much to cheer about so far this season.  They've already experienced losing streaks of two, three, four, five and seven games over their schedule.  But, with the help of a sweep over the Indians, the Rays are looking good so far.  This team has the offensive pieces to win games, but their pitching has been very poor.  Of starters with at least five outings, only Waechter has an ERA under five.  Their rotation isn't pretty, but their bullpen - consisting mainly of Trever Miller, John Halama, Lance Carter, Danys Baez and Travis Harper, has been outstanding.  While the rotation has an ERA of 5.98, the bullpen's is an admirable 3.38.

The team's offense, which had been suffering due to the lack of production from key players like Aubrey Huff, is still fairly effective, with a run-and-gun technique.  Carl Crawford leads the majors in stolen bases with 23, and he's hitting .305 to boot.  Three other Rays have at least five steals.  Power is a problem for them, however, as Tino Martinez and Jose Cruz are tied for the team lead with just seven apiece. 

The Yankees scored an insane 41 runs during their series with the Orioles, sweeping them soundly.  It appears that the offense is finally clicking on all cylinders, even with the absence of 1B Jason Giambi, who is sidelined with an ankle injury (and various other nagging problems).  Think how scary they'll be when he gets back healthy.  The Yanks are 6-3 in the first nine games of this road trip, meaning they can do no better than break even if they get swept by Tampa, so it's been quite the successful stint.

Yankees Road Record: 15-11        Last 10: 7-3
Devil Rays Home Record: 13-12    Last 10: 6-4

Season Series: Yankees lead, 3-2

Key Matchups:  Active Yankees vs. Waechter: 5/23 (.217), six strikeouts... Posada vs. Hendrickson: 4/8, home run... Rodriguez vs. Hendrickson: 3/5, home run... Posada vs. Zambrano: 3/23, eight strikeouts... Jeter vs. Zambrano: 4/22, six walks... Fick vs. Vazquez: 5/14, two home runs... Lugo vs. Vazquez: 4/12, home run, four strikeouts... Tino Martinez vs. Brown: 4/41, eight strikeouts... Lugo vs. Lieber: 5/23, four strikeouts.

Probable Pitchers:

Friday: Javier Vazquez (4-4, 3.67) vs. Doug Waechter (2-4, 3.93)
Vazquez beat the Rangers in his last start, holding them to three runs in six innings.  He was brilliant in the outing before that as well.  In three interleague starts against Tampa, Vazquez is 1-0 with a 4.58 ERA.

Just two of Waechter's three starts have been Quality Starts, but he won both of those, including a solid outing against the Indians last week.  Waechter has had some success against the Yankees, with an ERA of 3.00 in two starts.

Saturday: Kevin Brown (5-1, 3.60) vs. Mark Hendrickson (2-4, 5.15)
Brown is expected to start this game, but if he is unable to, Tanyon Sturtze would probably have a go, and that wouldn't be good for anyone.  Brown lost for the first time this year in his last appearance, a poor outing against the Rangers, then left the team for unspecified personal reasons.  If he starts this game, I'll be a happy man.

The 6'9" Hendrickson has five Quality Starts in eight chances, a good ratio, but his numbers are still fairly unpleasant.  He pitched well in his last outing, three earned runs in seven innings against the Indians, but didn't figure in the decision.  The Yankees roughed him up back on April 14 for five runs in six innings.

Sunday: Jon Lieber (4-1, 3.53) vs. Victor Zambrano (4-4, 5.63)
Lieber is on a three-game win streak, and a pitcher of his style should be able to shut down an impatient team like Tampa Bay.  Lieber throws strikes almost exclusively, so the DRays should be swinging a lot.  I'll be shocked if he manages to walk someone in this game.  Lieber took home a 'W' in his last start against Baltimore, a seven-inning, zero earned run affair.

Zambrano actually has a winning record (4-3) against the Yankees and, looking through his splits, causes most Yankee hitters to have fits.  Only Giambi and Gary Sheffield hit him well, and Giambi (7/21, three homers) won't be playing in this series. 

Predictions and Prognostications:
With the way the Yanks hit during the Baltimore series, they could beat anyone, anytime.  But I don't reasonably expect that to continue much longer.  I was dead-on in my prediction of a sweep last time, but I just don't see it here, especially if Brown doesn't pitch.  All of these games are winnable, but the Yanks will only take two of three.

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