Yankees Shoot for First Against Rays

The Yankees open series with Tampa with a shot at moving into first

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Pettitte gets the push for first started on Tuesday night.

    It's been a long time since New York has seen anything like this.

    You have to dial the memory back to the late 1980s to find a time when the Mets were the biggest baseball story in town. That's what throwing the first no-hitter in franchise history and moving to the cusp of first place in a season that was written off around last year's All-Star break will do for you.

    The Yankees, meanwhile, have been mucking along with a winning record, albeit one that isn't good enough to vault them above the Rays and Orioles in the AL East. There's nothing wrong about that, it's just that it is a bit too routine a course of events for anyone to get too excited at this point in time.

    That could change over the next three days. The Yankees open up a series with the Rays  on Tuesday night and, with a little help from the Orioles, they could end it in first place if they pull off a sweep of the visitors from Tampa.

    It's a good time for the Yankees to test themselves against the Rays. They've won seven of their last 10 games, halting the worrying sounds that were accompanied their play as May drew to a close and reminding the pessimists that 162 games allow you a lot of time to figure everything out.

    On top of that, they also have seen some signs of life from some of their struggling bats. Mark Teixeira has picked things up in recent weeks, something that could change in the face of the Rays' aggressive shift, and Alex Rodriguez is coming off one of his most productive weeks of the season.

    Robinson Cano has also regained the form we've come to expect, Curtis Granderson's power has proven to be more than one-year wonder and Derek Jeter's play remains strong. The issues with runners in scoring position haven't disappeared, but there's increasing reason to believe that they will fade away before too much longer.

    There's also the continued comeback of Andy Pettitte. He's been solid in his first four starts with only a high number of home runs sowing doubt about his ability to be a major cog in the wheel the rest of the way.

    That home run rate is so high that it feels too unsustainable for deep worry. That said, it wouldn't hurt to see him start slashing it with a strong outing against the Rays on Tuesday night.

    Plenty of games will remain when the Rays leave town on Thursday, but this still feels like something of a turning point in the Yankee season. Beat up on Tampa and the stumbles of the first two months won't mean all that much to anyone.

    It would also potentially set up a first place matchup when this year's Subway Series kicks off on Friday with Johan Santana's first start after his no-hitter. Headlines go to the winner.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.