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09/02/10 1:27 PM ET

Yanks hope to overcome tough schedule

Bombers have a more challenging stretch run than the Rays

NEW YORK -- As the Yankees played out their final innings of August, some of the players acknowledged looking up at the out-of-town scoreboard, checking to see how the Rays were faring in their own game down at Tropicana Field.

New York's victory that night, coupled with Tampa Bay's loss, nudged the Yankees ahead in the American League East race for the beginning of September, but that wasn't enough to provide any sense of relief. As the Yankees have been saying for months, they fully expect the division battle to come down to the finish.

"We know we're in for a big battle," said Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher. "We've got Tampa Bay and Boston, and regardless of what the standings are, either one of those teams is never out of it. They both have great teams.

"We've just got to keep going out and playing our game and worrying about what we have to take care of. That's just going out and playing good baseball for nine innings."

The schedule that dictates the last push of the season was cemented around this time last year, so it is fully understood that there is nothing the Yankees can do to change it.

But what remains does seem to slightly favor the Rays, who will be playing clubs who have compiled a lower winning percentage to this point.

Beginning Friday, when the Yankees welcome the Blue Jays to town for a three-game weekend series that kicks off the final month of the regular season, New York will face opponents who -- as of Wednesday -- owned a combined .522 winning percentage. Tampa Bay's remaining competition, meanwhile, was sitting at .485.

Using those numbers, the only sub-.500 team the Yankees will play are the Orioles, whom they see twice; Tampa Bay also gets two cracks at the Orioles, but they will also see series with the sub-.500 Angels, Mariners and Royals.

That, coupled with two upcoming series head-to-head with the Rays, has the Bombers readying for a tough slog ahead.

"We have a whole bunch to go still, and we're going to meet up [with Tampa Bay] a whole bunch of times," manager Joe Girardi said. "Obviously, you'd rather have the lead than it be the other way. But as far as [a lead having] a lot of significance right now, then no."

New York starts by seeing the Blue Jays, whom Girardi considered to be a potential playoff spoiler during their recent meeting in Toronto -- and for good reason. The Blue Jays have dealt the Yankees seven losses in their previous 12 meetings, including two in a three-game series Aug. 23-25.

After taking on the Orioles, the Yankees hit the road for possible playoff previews with both the Rangers (Sept. 10-12) and the Rays (Sept. 13-15).

The Yankees have played tough against the Rays, owning a 5-6 record head-to-head, and they have handled the Rangers this season, winning four of their five matchups. But the wild card is that they will again have to face left-hander Cliff Lee -- whom they had tried to acquire at the non-waiver Trade Deadline before the deal flopped -- in his newest uniform.

A swing into Baltimore (Sept. 17-19) follows, and the weekend by the Inner Harbor might be a welcome respite. The Orioles have lost 10 of 12 previous meetings with the Yankees -- all of which came in the Dave Trembley era, not with new skipper Buck Showalter at the helm, under whom Baltimore is playing above .500 since Aug. 3.

Another difficult four-game series with the Rays follows (Sept. 20-23), this time at Yankee Stadium, where the Yankees improved to 2-3 against Tampa Bay after winning two of three in mid-July. Then the Bombers turn their attention to the Red Sox (Sept. 24-26), who may be contending or spoiling by that time. New York is 7-5 against Boston this year.

With their home schedule complete, the Yankees then will pack their bags for the final six games of the regular season, carrying their passports to Toronto (Sept. 27-29) and then checking in where the year began at Fenway Park (Oct. 1-3).

Looking ahead to that point, the Yankees will surely be hoping for a batch of new assignments that will carry through October and bleed into November. But they can't expect getting there to be easy.

"We have to win," Mark Teixeira said. "We have to take care of our own business. It doesn't matter what everyone else does if we don't win. You check the scoreboard every now and then, but we're really concentrating on what we have to do."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.