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Friday, May 24, 2013
First Pitch: First 'big' series of 2013

By Wallace Matthews

Robinson Cano
Robinson Cano & Co. step up to the plate tonight in St. Pete.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- There is no longer any argument that the Yankees, at 28-18 and atop the AL East by a game despite having nearly a dozen players on the disabled list, have overperformed.

And one could certainly make the argument that the Tampa Bay Rays, who a year ago had the same 28-18 record and led the division by a game, have underperformed, thanks in large part to their 5-10 start.

But one thing no one can dispute is that despite how well the Yankees have played through their adversity, once again no one is running away with the AL East, which remains as tight as Tom Jones' pants.

Even with two teams overperforming (I think you have to include the Boston Red Sox in this category), two teams (the Rays and the Baltimore Orioles) slightly underperforming, and the preseason favorite, the Toronto Blue Jays, dead in the water, it is important to note that only four games separate the first-place Yankees from the fourth-place Rays. (The Blue Jays are 8.5 games out and barely worth a mention.)

And by the end of this weekend, the divisional race can get a whole lot tighter.

Starting tonight, the Yankees embark on a three-game series with the Rays in St. Petersburg. The Orioles, who lost last night to the Blue Jays, will play three more this weekend in Toronto. And the Red Sox will host the red-hot Cleveland Indians.

It seems silly to drop the "B" word on a series played on Memorial Day weekend, but for the Yankees and Rays, especially, this one is big, with a capital "B."

The possibility that either team can sweep seems highly unlikely, with the Rays throwing unbeaten Matt Moore on Saturday and the Yankees finishing up with CC Sabathia, against Alex Cobb, on Sunday.

But if either team does manage to pull out all three games, the dynamic of this divisional race, which seems destined to go to the wire once more, will change significantly, at least for the time being.

A sweep by the Yankees would put some serious distance between themselves and Tampa. A sweep by the Rays would not only draw them within a game of the Yankees, it would also open the door for either the Red Sox or Orioles to step to the head of the class, depending upon how their series go.

Who says early-season baseball is meaningless, or that scoreboard watching in May is ridiculous?

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, for the first time this season we will all be watching the out-of-town scores at the same time we are watching the Yankees and Rays in their first significant series of the season.

And even if it is forgotten in September, these three games between New York and Tampa Bay will make this Memorial Day weekend memorable.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Which of the Yankees' divisional rivals do you fear the most, Tampa, Boston or Baltimore? (You can even say Toronto if you like, but at this point it's a tough sell.) Let us hear you in the comments section below.

UP NOW: Andrew Marchand with a most intriguing blog item: What if, after all the Yankees' stars return to action, the team isn't as it good as it is now? What does Joe Girardi do? And I've got the latest injury roundup in the blog.

ON DECK: Game 1 between the Yankees and Rays, David Phelps (2-2, 3.83) versus RHP Roberto Hernandez (2-4, 5.24) at Tropicana Field, first pitch at 7:10 p.m. I'll be in the clubhouse when it opens at 3:40 p.m., so check in around that time for starting lineups and pregame notes. And as always, thank you kindly for stopping in.