Yes, the Yankees have lost all five of their games against the Red Sox this year, but they’ve actually outplayed Boston the rest of the time. The Yankees are 13-8 (.619) against their other opponents (O’s, Rays, Royals, Indians, A’s, Tigers, Angels), while the Red Sox are 12-10 (.545) against essentially the same group of teams (O’s, Rays, Indians, A’s, Angels).
The Yankees may have a mere .500 winning percentage, but the Rays are four games below .500 at .429 and lost their only series against the Yanks thus far their season. The Rays’ haven’t won more than two games in a row all season and have a 1-6-2 record in series.
The catch is that the Rays haven’t been bad, they’ve just been unlucky. Based on run differential, the Rays should be just a half game behind the Red Sox at 15-13, rather than 5.5 games behind Boston as they currently are. The problem is the Rays aren’t giving themselves much margin for error. They’re the fourth stingiest team in the American League in terms of runs allowed per game, but they’re scoring runs more often than just five teams in the AL.
The underperforming offense can be pinned to differing degrees on B.J. Upton and Dioner Navarro, who have been complete black holes for the Rays thus far this year (Upton: .157/.276/.205, 27 OPS+; Navarro: .179/.198/.262, 18 OPS+), and Pat Burrell, who enters tonight’s game with just one home run and a .322 slugging percentage. Upton has gone 1-for-18 over his last four games. Burrell has had just two extra-base hits in his last 75 plate appearances. Evan Longoria is mashing, leading the majors with in slugging with a .365/.417/.721 line, Carlos Peña is leading the majors with 11 home runs, Carl Crawford is leading the majors with 19 stolen bases and has yet to be caught, and Jason Bartellet is in the top-10 in the majors in batting average, but Longoria, Peña and Bartlett are the only every-day Rays starters with multiple homers on the season, and Bartlett especially is playing way over his head. Assuming the Rays’ lineup will balance out and for a few more breaks will go their way, they should be fine, but they’re creating an opportunity for the Yankees with their early struggles.
The Rays’ roster is unchanged from the last time they faced the Yankees, though former Yankee farm hand Michel Hernandez replaced Shawn Riggans (15-day DL: right shoulder tendonitis) as the back-up catcher after I wrote my initial preview. They send Andy Sonnanstine to the hill tonight. Sonnanstine got a no-decision after holding the Yankees to two runs over five innings on April 15 in a game the Yankees eventually won with a run of closer Troy Percival in the ninth inning. Sonnanstine has completed six innings just once this season and carries a 6.75 ERA into tonight’s game.
The Yankees counter with A.J. Burnett, whose best start of the year was his eight dominant innings against the Rays on April 14 (8 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 9 K). Burnett walked seven in his next start, then coughed up eight runs to the Red Sox in the start after that. His last time out, against the Angels, he was good enough, allowing four runs over seven innings and walking just one in a game the Yankees won with three runs in the eighth.
Note those combacks. The Yankees have scored 2.38 runs per game in the seventh, eight, and ninth innigs alone. The major league average is just 1.47 R/G in the seventh, eighth, and ninth. Meanwhile, the April 15 game mentioned above was the only save the Rays bullpen has blown all season.