The Tampa Rays come into Yankee Stadium licking their wounds after a three-game sweep in Baltimore, but they shouldn’t expect much sympathy from the Yankees. Although the Bronx Bombers won the last two games of their series against the Red Sox, the team is riding its first winning streak in just under a month. With the pennant race tightening and only 19 games to go, the sense of urgency around both teams has been heightened.
Tonight’s match-up features a classic pitchers’ duel between David Price and CC Sabathia. Normally, each team would be extremely confident giving the ball to its ace lefty, but this time around, both pitchers have a question mark hovering above their head. For Price, it will not only be his first start since skipping a turn because of shoulder soreness, but also the second removed from one of the worst performances of his career. If Tampa is going to make the playoffs, they’ll need Price to be at his best, so tonight’s showdown in the Bronx is a vital test.
The Yankees also enter tonight’s game with concern about their ace lefty. Within the past three months, Sabathia has been forced to the disabled list on two occasions, including the first time for an arm injury. Adding to the worry have been Sabathia’s recent struggles, which, perhaps, have been the result of his diminished velocity. Although he hasn’t been terrible by any stretch, the lefty has posted a relatively high 4.43 ERA over his last three starts, and, more importantly, surrendered a lead in each outing. Had the Yankees’ offense been performing up to par, the left hander’s effort in each game might have been good enough for a victory. Instead, all three games ended up in the loss column.
Aside from the current streak, there has only been one other stretch during which Yankees have lost at least three consecutive games started by Sabathia. After getting off to a hot start in 2010, the left hander hit a rough patch in May, going 0-2 over four games that were lost by the Yankees. Because it was early in the season, and Sabathia hadn’t been on the disabled list prior, there wasn’t much reason to panic. This time around, the Yankees don’t have time for Sabathia to work through his struggles, nor the depth to deal with another injury. In other words, Joe Girardi needs his ace to start dealing.
Even when healthy and pitching at his best, Sabathia versus Price has not been a favorable matchup for the Yankees. In seven meetings between the two starters, Sabathia has gone 1-4 with a 4.40 ERA, while Price has turned the tables, going 4-1 with an ERA almost half that rate. In total, the Rays have won six of the seven matchups, so, if Sabathia isn’t on his game, chances are the Yankees won’t be either.
Even though the team hasn’t been dealt a great hand of the late, the Yankees still hold an Ace in Sabathia. Now, they need him to starting pitching like one. If Sabathia can bounce back over his final three or four starts, the Yankees have to like their chances to win the A.L. East. Otherwise, it might take a considerable amount of luck for the Yankees to win the division because it looks more and more like Buck’s Orioles aren’t bluffing. The stakes have been raised. May the best Ace win.