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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, July 1, 2012 at 9:15 PM

The July 4th fireworks are going to start EARLY in the AL East as the New York Yankees visit the Tampa Bay Rays this week in a series that will see all three games nationally televised by either ESPN or the MLB Network.

Any hopes the Rays have for making a run at first place are pinned to success in this series. A recent red hot run by the Yankees has created a lot of space between the Bronx Bombers and the field. Tampa Bay is only “in the field” right now. A 3-0 home sweep puts them back in the divisional discussion. But, an 0-3 debacle might drop them out of the picture for good…at least in terms of winning the AL East.

Tampa Bay will likely be a featured players in the AL Wildcard race all season…along with a half a dozen other who can’t seem to keep their engines revved for more than a few days at a time.

We’ve talked a lot about the Yankees in recent weeks. They’ve been playing great ball against a tough schedule. They keep showing up in showcase games…and then WINNING them. What’s been going on with Tampa Bay?



3-8 their last 11 games

8-13 their last 21 games

12-19 their last 31 games

22-30 since peaking at 19-8 back on May 4th

There you go. The Rays have fallen off the pace by their own accord. Yes, the Yankees are hot. Tampa Bay has played below .500 ball now for almost two months.

It’s true that the Rays have had to deal with a tough schedule this year. The AL East is brutal, and that division drew the NL East in Interleague play. We’re not ready to say that the Rays are as bad as Kansas City or Oakland, losing teams from other AL divisions. But, it’s clear that their best baseball came very early in the season. And, it’s VERY clear of late that the team doesn’t measure up to the Yankees. New York has also had a brutal schedule.

Of course, the injury bug hit New York last week in a way that could throw the division back into chaos. CC Sabathia is unavailable until after the All-Star break Andy Pettitte is unavailable until the latter stages of the season. If Tampa Bay is going to make a move, NOW is the time!

Let’s see how the pitching matchups shape up for this three-game set…



New York: Garcia (2-2, 6.39 ERA, 1.45 WHIP)

Tampa Bay: Moore (4-5, 4.19 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)

Yes, that’s Freddy Garcia making an emergency start for the Yankees. One of two off-rotation starters who will see action for New York before the series is over. Tampa Bay HAS to get this one of you just can’t take them seriously as a relevant threat in 2012. Moore has been a fairly big disappointment thus far in his short career. Much of that was due to expectations though. His potential is still great. But, many in the organization thought he had a chance to be the next Steven Strasburg. That’s clearly not happening. Make some accounting for his age and the tough schedule TB has faced…and you can still see him developing into a solid contributor for years to come. That’s great if you want to go 84-78 every season. This would be a great time for him to step up. Note that New York is travelling without a day off, while Tampa Bay was home against Detroit this past weekend. They really need to take care of business here.



New York: Nova (9-2, 4.03 ERA, 1.37 WHIP)

Tampa Bay: Shields (7-5, 4.04 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)

Very similar pitching stats for these guys. Nova has the better record because he’s had a lot of good run support. You could still give Nova the nod overall though because he has to pitch his home games in a home run paradise (for lefty hitters anyway). Shields gets some help at home in the dome because he’s a strikeout pitcher in tougher than normal visibility. The best pitching matchup of the series, and therefore the best true test of the series.



New York: Phelps (1-3, 3.16 ERA, 1.32 WHIP)

Tampa Bay: Price (11-4, 2.92 ERA, 1.22 WHIP)

That’s David Phelps, for those of you wondering if the Yanks had hired an Olympic swimmer to pitch a game. Phelps is used mostly in relief, and mostly in long relief when the team has fallen behind. His ERA and WHIP numbers as a full-time starter would be probably be much worse than that. Price is the ace of the Rays’ staff this season given those All-Star caliber numbers. Clearly Games 1 and 3 of this series are absolute must-have’s for the Rays. You’re just not going to run into gifts like Price vs. Phelps vs. often against a great team that you’re trying to catch from behind. Note that this is a day game on the July 4th holiday. Will this be three days of fireworks for Rays fans? Or, a DUD!?

JIM HURLEY has some very strong opinions about this series and a few other matchups that are in play Monday through Thursday. You can purchase game day releases in baseball right here at the website with your credit card. Be sure you take care of business early when there is afternoon action. That will be the case on Wednesday and Thursday of this week in addition to the weekend.

If you have any questions about NETWORK service, please call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Remember that early-bird NFL rates are available already for the annual “Dollars of August” preseason package.

Other series of interest for us in the bases this week:

Cincinnati at the LA Dodgers: The LA offense has been missing in action for a couple of weeks because of injuries. The Reds have been on a nice run, and are starting to look like the Championship contenders the market expected to see at the beginning of the season. Can the Dodgers end their slump against a hot visitor?

San Francisco at Washington (starts Tuesday): Believe it or not, these may be the best two teams in the NL right now. The Dodgers are still getting media run despite their slump. R.A. Dickey of the Mets is back in the news after throwing another shutout. The Giants and Nats are staying off the radar despite sustained success for weeks. This could be an NLCS preview!

Texas at Chicago White Sox: You know the Rangers have been great all year. The White Sox have been playing very well the last six weeks in a way that suggests they might be a force to be reckoned with after all come playoff time. They’d love to send that message here in a high profile series. Are the Chisox for real? Or, are they about to get a rude awakening from the big bats and strong arms of the ruling Rangers?

We’ll talk more about that Texas/CWS series Tuesday in the NOTEBOOK as we run another series showcase. And, we can already tell you now that FRIDAY will feature showcase coverage of the Yankees-Red Sox series in Fenway. No surprise that MLB wanted to end the first half of the season with their big market monsters going head-to-head!

Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY in the NOTEBOOK so you know what’s really going on in the world of sports. If you’re battling the Las Vegas sportsbooks…link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK so you’re sure to GET THE MONEY!

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