Yankees-Rays: Why This Series Will Still Leave the AL East Up for Grabs

Kate Conroy@@ladylovespinsSenior Analyst IISeptember 20, 2010

ST PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 31:  Outfielder Carl Crawford #13 of the Tampa Bay Rays steals his 400th career base as shortstop Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees is late with the tag during the game at Tropicana Field on July 31, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

Ending a horrid 3-6 road trip, the New York Yankees are glad to be back home.

Home or not though, starting with a 4-game series against the second-place Tampa Bay Rays, the next two weeks will challenge the Yankees in every possible way.

The Yankees come into the week with a 90-59 record, just a half-game ahead of the Rays, who sit at 89-59. The series will give both teams a chance to leave with a two or three game division lead, but the Yankees and Rays are so evenly matched that a 2-2 split seems more likely than anything else.

Which team looks stronger?

It has only been a week since New York and Tampa played what was, hands down, the best series of baseball this season. All three games were determined late, and both squads fought it out with playoff-like energy. In the end, Tampa took two of three games from the Yankees at the Trop.

But the road to a series win will be that much tougher for the Rays, who will this time face the Yankees in New York, and that is not the only advantage for the Pinstripes.

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Since leaving Tampa, the Yankees have welcomed back Andy Pettitte. Pettitte pitched great on Sunday, going six innings and giving up only three hits. Even though Pettitte won’t face Tampa in this series, having him healthy again is a huge morale boost.

Joe Girardi made a smart decision to sit third baseman Alex Rodriguez and first baseman Mark Teixeira during the Baltimore series, and they should come back energetic and healthy. Add well-rested Brett Gardner and Nick Swisher to the lineup, and suddenly Tampa looks at taking on a team headed into the playoffs with the entire roster ready to play.

HIT... is the word of the week for the Yankees, and they will need more of them with runners in scoring position in order to win this series. During the weekend Baltimore series, the Yankees left thirty men on base.

While Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte were all solid, the Yankees failed time and time again to push runs across in two one-run games. Not backing up good pitching by scoring runs is a quick way to lose your division lead, ask the recently dethroned San Diego Padres.

With the Yankees coming home to the Bronx, the fans will be nuts. This is always a big edge for any team, but the New York home field advantage is famous nation-wide.

In order for the Rays to win, they will need to use every tool in their all-around talented lineup and that includes stealing bases. Virtually every player in the lineup features the speed factor, and base running could be the difference-maker. The Rays will need to get on base early in the game and than start running to fluster Yankee pitching, especially in the series opener against rookie Ivan Nova.

My Prediction:

To make a call on this series is tough as nails.

My honest bet is that the New York and Tampa spilt the series, leaving the fans on the edge of their seats and the AL East division still up for grabs.

Game 1 – Yankees win 6-4

Game 2 – Rays win 4-1

Game 3 – Rays win 5-4

Game 4 – Yankees win 3-1

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