There's a New Sheriff in the American League East

Tampa has made its intentions clear

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Entering the season there was a widely held belief that the three best teams in the American League were the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees. The last four nights at Yankee Stadium featured all three of those teams and almost two months into the season it's pretty clear that one of those teams is well ahead of the pack right now and it isn't the Yankees.

    The Rays crushed A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte on consecutive nights, got strong starts from James Shields and fifth starter Wade Davis and, with the exception of one ball lost in the lights, played outstanding defense to cruise to two easy victories over the Yankees. It's dangerous to read too much into any two May games, even games that featured victories as decisive as the ones on Wednesday and Thursday, but the statement was pretty clear all the same.

    The Rays are everything that the Yankees aren't. Their roster is deep, they have speed coming out of nearly every spot in the lineup and they have an enviable mix of youth and championship experience that can't be matched by any team in the league. Unlike the Yankees, they are also totally healthy right now. That will change, but so will the fact that the Rays haven't gotten much offense from anyone other than Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria.

    None of that should be read as an indictment of this year's Yankee team. When healthy, they are just as good if not better than the team down in Tampa. We're not questioning the overall fitness of the Yankees, though we're losing sleep trying to figure out how the Rays were on the wrong end of a perfect game. This is just an admission of what can't really be argued: The Rays are the best team in baseball right now.

    Brian Cashman admitted as much when speaking to reporters before the game. The emphasis added below was very clear in the voice of the Yankees general manager. 

    "They are a great team, and we think we are. We have our hands full. We're going to have to bring our 'A' game every night, healthy or not. The team knows how to play." 

    It's a long season and we're barely at the quarter pole, but they are in fifth gear while everyone else is struggling to move from third to fourth. The Yankees know what it is like to be that team, but, thankfully, they also know that being that team in May doesn't guarantee you anything beyond a pleasant Memorial Day.   

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.