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05/18/10 7:59 PM ET

Rays, Yanks battle for AL East's top spot

It might only be May, but there's no denying that when the Rays visit Yankee Stadium this week, both teams will have their playoff faces on.

In the climactic drama usually reserved for weekend series, the Yanks have a chance to make up ground on the first-place Rays in the American League East during the brief two-game jaunt between the clubs.

"It's going to be fun going up there, as it should be," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You want to be on the top, you want to play the best teams and you want to be in the best division. It's great. Our guys will be ready for it."

The Rays have the added incentive of correcting the Yankees' run of dominance against them. Tampa Bay has finished with a losing record against New York every year since 2005. So far this season, the Yanks hold a 2-1 advantage from their April series in St. Peterburg. Regardless, the Rays know they can only control their own game.

"It's just like any other series -- go in looking to win it," B.J. Upton said. "Probably a little more excitement, but you can't really look at it that way. You just have to stay even keel, do the things we've been doing. I know it's a first-second place thing right now. There's still a lot of games left."

Despite having the best record in baseball, the Rays feel they haven't even hit their stride yet. While the rotation is arguably the most complete in baseball, Tampa Bay's work at the plate could improve, Maddon feels.

"Our game is a pretty good game right now," Maddon said. "Our guys just haven't hit to our potential yet, but we're doing everything else pretty good. I think it'll be exciting."

As much success as the Rays have had early this season, the Yankees haven't let them out of their sight in the division race. New York has ridden its strong lineup and sits just barely behind Tampa Bay.

If nothing else, this week's short series could help answer if the 2010 Rays have the firepower in their rotation to shut down the Yankees in the Bronx -- a place where success will be required down the stretch.

Rays: Davis set to take on Yankees
Right-hander Wade Davis, who got off to a strong start before dropping his past two decisions, makes his second start of the year against the Yanks. He was victimized by a lack of run support in his most recent loss, an issue that plagued him the first time around against New York as CC Sabathia nearly no-hit the Rays that day.

"He gave us a chance to win. We just couldn't get enough runs for him," first baseman Carlos Pena said of Davis' most recent effort. "It was another great performance by one of our pitchers, and we just could not come out on top for him. But he did a great job."

Yankees: Burnett looks to keep rolling against Rays
A.J. Burnett gets the call for the Yanks after taking a no-decision in his last start against the Twins. Despite going 6 2/3 innings and allowing just two earned runs, he struggled a bit with his control, issuing four free passes. He's been especially good against the Rays, as his 12 career wins against them are his most against any team, and he holds a solid 2.76 ERA.

Worth noting
Yankees' designated hitter Nick Johnson had surgery Tuesday at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital to remove inflamed tissue from his right wrist, and it will be a minimum of four to six weeks before Johnson is able to swing a bat. He was originally placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 8 with an inflamed tendon in his right wrist. ... Mariano Rivera and Robinson Cano will throw out first pitches at Randall's Island as part of the New York City Parks Department's unveiling of 60 new sports fields. ... The Yankees played Tuesday's game under protest, claiming the Red Sox failed to note Josh Beckett's injury prior to making a pitching change in the fifth inning (Rule 4.19). ... Last season, the Yanks won the season series vs. the Rays 11-7. ... Yankee Stadium has always been a struggle for the Rays, who've lost their past seven games there.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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