James Shields of the Tampa Bay Rays throws a pitch against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
The 2011 regular season ends one week from today. And by the end of today, we should know a lot more about how the postseason lineup looks in the American League.
The Tampa Bay Rays have refused to go away. Despite their 5-0 loss to the Yankees on Tuesday night, they stayed just two games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL wild card race as Boston dropped a decision to the Baltimore Orioles. The two teams were originally supposed to play just a pair of games this week, but thanks to the wet weather in New York this spring and summer, this shortened series turned into a four-game set, with a split doubleheader today.
Game 1, at 1 p.m. ET, will feature the Rays' James Shields against the Yankees' Phil Hughes. Hughes missed quite a bit of this season with injuries, and though sporting an ugly 6.00 season ERA, he has been quite good in his last two starts.
He will have a formidable opponent in Shields, who leads the AL in shutouts with four and the major leagues in complete games with 11. Despite a loss to the Red Sox in his last outing, he has posted a 2.22 ERA since August 1 and the Rays are 7-2 in his nine starts since then.
If the Yankees win the day game, they will clinch a playoff spot.
The night game, at 7 p.m. ET, will feature a top AL Rookie of the Year candidate (Jeremy Hellickson) against a pitcher who in any other year would be a top Cy Young contender (CC Sabathia). Hellickson's ERA is just below Shields', at 2.91, and he has been nearly as good as his teammate since August 1 (2.36 ERA and 1.16 WHIP).
Meanwhile, Sabathia will be going for his 20th victory of the season. He got cuffed around by the Blue Jays in his last start on September 16 in Toronto, but he has already shut out the Rays once this season, on July 10 at Yankee Stadium. The Rays, having already been shut out Tuesday night in New York, have probably had enough of that.
So pitching will likely be king today and tonight at Yankee Stadium. A Yankees sweep would put the Rays in a very tough spot, but a Tampa Bay sweep could put them just half a game behind Boston, pending the outcome of the Red Sox/Orioles game tonight. There's a small chance of rain in New York City by the middle of the evening half of this twin bill. So grab extra popcorn and settle in. It could be a long afternoon and evening in the Bronx.