- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The New York Yankees faced three Tampa Bay Rays starting pitchers in three nights at Tropicana Field, and the worst of them by far was the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner.
On Monday night, it was 23-year-old Matt Moore using the Yankees as doormats, holding them to one run in eight innings as the Rays beat CC Sabathia 5-1. Tonight, it was 25-year-old Alex Cobb who worked into the ninth inning, shutting the Yankees out on three hits -- one of them an infield single -- as the Rays beat Andy Pettitte 3-0.
In between, there was David Price who got shelled by comparison, allowing three runs over eight-plus innings as New York took the middle game of the series 4-3.
Judging by these results, you'd think the Yankees are going to have their hands full with the Rays and their outstanding starting staff again this season, even minus the departed James Shields.
But it is important to remember that the lineup the Yankees are sending out on a nightly basis bears little resemblance to the lineup they expected to be sending out this year, or the one they hope to be sending out perhaps as soon as a month from now. (Ironically enough, it was their especially anemic right-handed hitting lineup that accounted for their only win in this series.)
Yes, Moore is a stud and Cobb is a good young pitcher and Price is still Price, even if his early-season record (0-2) and ERA (5.52) are anything but Cy Young-caliber.
But you must take into account the quality of the lineups all three faced this week. On Monday and Tuesday, the DH was Ben Francisco, who is batting .080. For two of the three games, the No. 5 hitter was Francisco Cervelli, who while much improved is still never a guy the manager in the opposing dugout is worrying about. And for two nights, the Yankees' cleanup hitter was Vernon Wells. Again, better than the Vernon Wells who suffered through two horrendous seasons in Anaheim, but hardly Alex Rodriguez, circa 2007, or Robinson Cano, circa now.
Aside from Cano (.342 BA, .395 OBP), Travis Hafner (.319 and a whopping .429), Wells (.296, .367) and Cervelli (.283, .389), consider some of these numbers: Francisco (.080, .179); Brett Gardner (.250, .322); Ichiro Suzuki (.220, .266); Brennan Boesch (.250, .250); Lyle Overbay (.246, .281); Eduardo Nunez (.174, .273) and Jayson Nix (.225, .256).
Not to take anything away from Moore, Cobb or even Price, but no wonder they looked like Koufax, Drysdale and Gibson this week.
In fact, it's amazing that Cano and Hafner are hitting as well as they are when Gardner and Suzuki are barely getting on base ahead of them, and Cervelli and Overbay are their protection most nights.
The way the division is laid out right now, it looks like parity from top to bottom. After the division-leading Red Sox at 14-7, the Baltimore Orioles are next at 12-9, followed by the Yankees at 11-9, the Rays at 10-11 and the Blue Jays at 9-13. The Yankees' first time through the division, they are 6-6, having beaten Baltimore and Toronto two out of three, and having lost two of three to the Rays and Red Sox.
It raises the specter of a long, arduous slog through the AL East, with a wild-card spot up for grabs down to the last games of the season, if a wild card comes out of the East at all.
But then you have to remind yourself -- no Jeter, no A-Rod, no Grandy or Tex -- and suddenly, the Yankees' performance after their first 20 games doesn't look all that bad. Granderson started taking batting practice today and should be back by mid-May. Teixeira is a few steps behind him but could follow by the end of the month. Jeter and A-Rod are going to take longer, but Nunez looks much-improved at shortstop and we know he's a better hitter than he's shown, and if Youkilis can stay healthy, he's at least one more professional bat in the lineup.
Moore and Cobb looked great this week, and you will go broke betting that Price will not return to form this year, and soon. Two of the three had their way with the Yankees in this series, and the one who didn't is probably the best of the lot.
But it wasn't the real Yankees they faced, merely a cast of understudies trying to play their roles as best they can until the original cast comes back to the show.
2dDanny Knobler, Special to ESPN.com
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