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Rays at Yankees Free Pick for June 5th

Tampa Bay Rays +115 at New York Yankees -122 (Total: 8.5)

James Shields (6-3, 3.95 ERA) vs. Andy Pettitte (2-2, 3.49 ERA)

The American League East has been the most competitive and high-quality division in all of baseball so far in 2012.  Heading into the season, most experts knew the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox would be vying for the division crown as well as one of the two (or both) wildcards spots.  Many thought the Blue Jays could surprisingly contend as well.  But raise your hand if you had the Orioles in first place on June 5th?  And raise both hands if you had EVERY team in the division over .500??

So to call tonight’s Rays v. Yankees matchup a contest between two of the best in the American League would be accurate and vague at the same time.  But it doesn’t diminish the quality of the matchup between one of the biggest innings eaters and big-game pitchers in baseball matching up against the comeback ‘kid’, the seemingly ageless Andy Pettitte.

Pettitte has been more than a stop-gap for the Yankees since his return after coming out of retirement and signing a one-year minor-league contract late Spring.  He has actually been one of their best pitchers.  Pettitte is 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA on the season, but is 2-1 with a 2.86 ERA in his last three starts.  Not only is that good for a 38-year old retired guy, its good for any pitcher at any level.

To put it in context, Shields is 6-3 on the year, but has a higher ERA at 3.95.  Over his last three starts he is 0-2 with a 5.42 ERA and a WHIP of 1.50.  It brings at least a little concern that the tremendous number of innings Shields has thrown over the past few seasons might be wearing him down just a bit.  He will certainly be tested against a potent Yankee lineup tonight.

The Yankees are hitting .263 as a team, a full 30 points higher than the Rays, and are averaging a half-run more per nine innings with 4.85.  Injuries are piling up on the Rays as well.  Longoria, Keppinger and now Desmond Jennings are all on the DL – so the fact they have tread water as well as they have in frankly incredible, and a testament to their excellent pitching staff.

I like Pettitte to keep the Rays hitters off balance tonight and the Yankee lineup to continue their recent success off James Shields and to get a win tonight at home.  They have touched him up and sent him to the showers in the 6th and 7th inning in two starts this season; I like them to have similar success tonight.

Free Pick:  New York Yankees to WIN -122