USA TODAY Sports Weekly

AL East leaders (not Yankees) battle

- Gabe Lacques USA TODAY

A much-anticipate­d series between the two best teams in the American League, both off to roaring starts in a pitched battle for a division title, began this week.

And the New York Yankees were hundreds of miles from the very heart of it. No, as the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles met for three games at Camden Yards, it pitted two lower-revenue teams off to staggering starts – 28-7 for the Amazin’ Rays and 22-12 for the upstart Orioles.

The Yankees? Well, it’s too soon to wonder if it’s too late – but not too soon to wonder if this stretch of injurywrac­ked, disappoint­ing play will cost them any hope of winning the AL East.

The latest indignity came May 7 at Tropicana Field, when ace Gerrit Cole was handed a 6-0 lead and gave up every bit of it, squanderin­g a golden opportunit­y for the Yankees to deal the Rays a rare series L – and instead lost in extra innings to fall 10 games out in the AL East.

The Yankees (18-17) are 15th in USA TODAY Sports’ MLB power rankings after dropping 11 spots in just two weeks, including a leapfrog in the rankings and out of the East cellar by the Boston Red Sox. Aaron Judge’s return this week comes with his club facing a steep climb.

A look at this week’s rankings:

1. Tampa Bay Rays (-)

uWin seven in a row, and they can catch the ’84 Tigers at 35-7.

2. Atlanta Braves (-)

uSean Murphy’s 1.047 OPS leads NL. 3. Baltimore Orioles (+1)

uHow for real? Here’s three against the Rays to find out.

4. Toronto Blue Jays (-1)

uAfter stopover in Philly, play 17 in a row against Braves, Yankees, Rays, Orioles, Twins.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers (+5)

uNot Kershaw, not Urías, but Dustin May (2.68 ERA) is your ace.

6. Texas Rangers (+6)

u221 runs more than any club outside Tampa Bay.

7. Milwaukee Brewers (-2)

uFive straight losses at Colorado, San Francisco drag them back to NL Central mediocrity party.

8. Pittsburgh Pirates (-2)

uIt was fun while it lasted.

9. San Diego Padres (-)

u“Crying Kershaw” meme worst editorial decision since “Dewey defeats Truman.”

10. Minnesota Twins (+1)

uRoyce Lewis to begin rehab assignment this week.

11. Arizona Diamondbac­ks (+1)

uGeraldo Perdomo’s 1.055 OPS in 86 PAs best among NL shortstops.

12. Boston Red Sox (+5)

uAlex Verdugo’s .883 OPS a 150-point improvemen­t on 2022.

13. Houston Astros (-5)

uCan’t fire the owner when he fails to add any starting pitching all winter.

14. Seattle Mariners (+2)

uRookie reliever Juan Then could be a perfect addition to squad.

15. New York Yankees (-2)

uRotation woes: Carlos Rodón could miss most of the year. Gerrit Cole steamed after blowing big lead. Luis Severino chafing at conditions of his rehab.

16. New York Mets (-9)

uSteve Cohen didn’t commit billion-ish $$s to make Tigers, Rockies look good.

17. Chicago Cubs (-2)

uTwo things can be true: They’re a .500 team and a real threat to win NL Central.

18. Los Angeles Angels (+3)

uAstros arrive in Anaheim looking vulnerable. Can they take advantage?

19. Philadelph­ia Phillies (-1)

uBryce Harper reaches base in 10 of his first 22 plate appearance­s.

20. Cleveland Guardians (-1)

uCal Quantrill flirts with a no-hitter.

21. Miami Marlins (-1)

uLuis Arraez: .420/.476/.518. 22. San Francisco Giants (-)

uThairo Estrada, NL All-Star? Embrace it.

23. Detroit Tigers (+2)

uCan vault Cleveland into second place in AL Central.

24. St. Louis Cardinals (-1)

uIs Willson Contreras really going to be a well-paid DH?

25. Cincinnati Reds (-1)

uGraham Ashcraft’s ERA balloons from 2.00 to 3.82 after giving up eight runs to White Sox.

26. Washington Nationals (+1)

uFourth in NL with .270 batting average, fifth in fewest strikeouts.

27. Colorado Rockies (+1)

uBrewers, Mets discover they won’t be such an easy out.

28. Chicago White Sox (-2)

uTo the list of bottomless woes, add “Eloy Jimenez appendecto­my.”

29. Kansas City Royals (-)

uUpheld the sanctity of No. 29 ranking by avoiding sweep against Oakland.

30. Oakland Athletics (-)

uRecord: 8-27. Run differential: -124.

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