Sabathia makes another pitch for 20 wins

Debby Wong/US Presswire

CC Sabathia makes his third attempt at becoming the first Yankees pitcher since Tommy John in 1979 and 1980 to win at least 20 games in consecutive seasons.

The Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees play the third game of their four-game series in New York on Wednesday Night Baseball (7 ET on ESPN). The Rays were nine games out of a playoff spot on Sept. 2. No team has ever overcome that large of a deficit in September to make the postseason. The 1964 St. Louis Cardinals overcame the largest deficit – 8½ games back on Sept. 3.

On the mound

For the Yankees, CC Sabathia is making his third attempt at winning 20 games this season. He’s trying to become the first Yankees pitcher since Tommy John in 1979-80 to win at least 20 games in consecutive seasons.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only one active pitcher won at least 20 games in back-to-back seasons. That was Roy Oswalt, who was 20-10 in 2004 and 20-12 in 2005. The last American League pitcher to win 20 games in consecutive seasons was Roger Clemens, for the 1997-1998 Toronto Blue Jays.

Sabathia has 224 strikeouts this season, ranking third on the Yankees single season all-time list. Ron Guidry holds the record with 248 strikeouts in 1978 (Jack Chesbro is second with 239 strikeouts in 1904).

CC Sabathia, Season Comparison

Sabathia has struggled against the Rays (fellow AL East rival, the Boston Red Sox) all season.

Besides struggling against the Rays and Red Sox, Sabathia has struggled with his fastball lately. Check out ESPN's Stats and Info's Mark Simon's blog on Sabathia's last nine starts.

For the Rays, Jeremy Hellickson takes the mound, searching for his 14th win of the season. Hellickson has a 2.91 ERA and is allowing the opposition to hit only .212 against him this season. Among qualified American League starting pitchers, his ERA and opponent batting average are each fifth-best.

Player to watch

Curtis Granderson is the first Yankees left-handed hitter with 40 home runs in a season since Jason Giambi in 2003. He’s also the first Yankee since Joe DiMaggio in 1937 with 40 home runs, 20 doubles and 10 triples in a season. Granderson also joins Willie Mays as the only players in MLB history to hit 40 home runs, record 10 triples and steal 20 bases in a single season. Mays did it in 1955.

Curtis Granderson
2011 MLB Ranks

According to Elias, only four players have ever finished a season in sole possession of the major-league lead in home runs, RBI and runs: Babe Ruth (three times, 1920, 1921 and 1926), Ted Williams (1942), Mickey Mantle (1956) and Alex Rodriguez (2007).

Granderson has struggled in his career against the Rays, with a career .147 batting average against current Tampa Bay pitchers. Against Hellickson, Granderson has just one hit in six at-bats, with three strikeouts.

Stat of the game

B.J. Upton has hit 13 career home runs against the Yankees, tied for his most against one team (Baltimore Orioles). He has three home runs this season against New York after having three combined against them from 2008-10.