There was a time when 65 wins and a 7-3 record in the last 10 games would allow a team to get relatively comfortable at this point in the season. When the division, even a really competitive one, would allowed that first-place club some breathing room. Heck, that's still the case throughout most of the league. But not in the ol' AL East. Not this year. The Tampa Bay Rays have refused to relent – really, they're too good to – and they're not giving the Yankees a chance to exhale. The Rays have done more than nip at their heels. They're the ferocious neighborhood Rottweiler coming full-speed.
In beating the Yankees, 3-2, yesterday, the Rays not only trimmed the Yanks' lead to a game, but showed a little mettle. Trailing 2-0 in the sixth and having been stifled by Phil Hughes, Matt Joyce erased all that with a three-run homer. Then the Rays showed how formidable their bullpen can be, shutting the Yankees down.
Time was when the Rays were... well, the Devil Rays. No reminder needed since it wasn't too long ago. What the Rays have shown for four months now is that, despite the $139-million disparity in payroll, they're right there, almost as if not as good as the Yankees. They're fully capable of keeping up. And really, the 102 wins the Yanks are on pace for might somehow not be enough to win the division.
The Yankees understand that, hence the trade deadline acquisitions of outfielder Austin Kearns (Indians) and former All-Stars Lance Berkman (Astros) and Kerry Wood (Indians). Perhaps the buzz about the new additions will dim the spotlight on Alex Rodriguez a bit as we embark on day 9 of Home Run Watch 2010.
That's all said (written) to say this: Big game today, huh?
Javy Vazquez (NYY) vs. Matt Garza (TB)
Vazquez is 9-7 with a 4.54 ERA overall – about average – but has pitched to a strong 3.04 ERA and lowered his WHIP to a respectable 1.24 since June. He features a sharp curveball and slider, an occasional changeup, and a four-seam fastball that usually sits between 88-90 mph. Vazquez, however, is 0-1 this season against the Rays. He gave up eight runs (8 hits, 3 walks, 2 homers) in 5 2/3 innings in a 9-3 loss in his first start on April 9. The Rays, overall, have had success against Vazquez. The players who have faced him are hitting a combined .290 with B.J. Upton and (8-for-15) Carl Crawford (11-for-29) leading the way. Among the regulars, Vazquez has best handled Carlos Pena, holding him to a .158 average and 10 strikeouts in 19 at-bats. Pena does have two homers off him, though.
Garza is coming off a no-hitter against the Tigers on Monday. It was the fifth no-hitter in the majors this season. The 26-year-old worked through the Detroit lineup, striking out six and allowing just one walk. (Not like Edwin Jackson's no-no against Tampa last month in which the former Ray walked eight.) Garza is 11-5 with a 4.06 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. His ERA is up from the previous three seasons, however, and his strikeouts per 9 innings has dropped from 8.38 last year to 6.79 now – which can be attributed to a slight loss in velocity. He's also given up 18 homers. The righthander's repertoire is similar to Vazquez's. He features a 91-94 mph fastball along with a slider, curve and changeup. Garza hasn't faced the Yankees yet this season, but last year he pitched to a 2.08 ERA in four starts against them. In their last meeting, Sept. 7, he allowed five hits and an unearned run in seven innings – though the Yankees went on to win 4-1. Nick Swisher has had the most success off Garza, going 5-for-10 with three walks and two homers. Derek Jeter has seen him the most and is 7-for-25 and Robinson Cano is at .273 with a homer. Because you're wondering: A-Rod is 7-for-15 with a homer off Garza.
Back with you later for stats and updates throughout tonight's game!