NEW YORK -- Yankees win the battle, lose the war and split the series. That's the story of this weekend in a nutshell. The battle? They got six strong innings out of Ivan Nova, who might be a player in their starting rotation. The war? a 3-1 loss to the Rays, in part because Joe Girardi stuck with Nova four batters too long, in part because his normally reliable bullpen couldn't shut the door, and in part because his lineup still can't hit much and consistently blows scoring opportunities (0-for-6 with RISP). The loss resulted in a split of the four-game series with the Rays, who are barely a .500 team these days.
What it means: That while the offense has been better lately, it is by no means fixed. The bottom third is a procession of automatic outs and aside from Brett Gardner, the top half is nothing to tremble over, either.
Bossa Nova: In his first start in nearly a month, Nova survived a shaky first inning in which he allowed a run on two singles, to work into the seventh inning, his longest outing since Aug. 11, and struck out a season-high seven. Nova's breaking pitches, particularly his slider, were working well for him today, and he pitched out of a bases-loaded, one out jam in the sixth by getting Jose Molina to ground into a double play. Unfortunately for Nova, he hit the last two batters he faced, with two outs in the seventh, and both scored when Boone Logan allowed a two-run single to James Loney, the only batter he faced, to give the Rays a 3-1 lead. Still, Nova was excellent to that point. Before the game, Joe Girardi could not say what his plans were for Nova after this start, but it's safe to assume that Phil Hughes is on the clock.
Unlucky seven: The seventh inning was the Yankees undoing. Nova's parting gift were two runners left on base after he hit Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist with two out. Joe Girardi went to his K-machine, Shawn Kelley, to pitch to Evan Longoria, but Kelley wound up walking him to load the bases. Then, Girardi went to his lefty specialist, Logan, to face Loney. Logan got ahead 1-2, but Loney ripped his slider into center, scoring two runs, both of which were charged to Nova. But Logan has now allowed 10 of 28 inherited runners to score this year.
Archer-y: Nova's Tampa Bay counterpart, Chris Archer, a 24-year-old righty, virtually matched Nova frame-for-frame, working six innings, allowing one run on six hits, walking one and striking out four. The 96-mph fastball he slipped past Cano to end the fifth inning with a runner on second was a thing of beauty.
How many out?: Cano helped Nova out of a difficult sixth inning by turning a double play, but it seemed pretty obvious he thought the force at second -- he took the flip from Nix -- was the third out, as he started jogging off the field. Lucky for him, Jose Molina, who is slower than the process of evolution, was the batter and Cano probably could have run the ball over to first. Instead, he recovered in time to flip it to Overbay to end the inning, preserving the 1-1 tie.
RISP Fail, Part 2: The Yankees got runners to first and second with one out in the fourth after Zoilo Almonte -- who else? -- singled and Jayson Nix got nicked by a pitch. But that threat died when David Adams rapped into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
Things you hardly ever see: Molina was credited with a stolen base in the eighth inning when he took off on a hit-and-run and the pitch caromed off Austin Romine's glove.
What's next: A day off before a stretch of 20 straight games that takes us to the All-Star break, beginning with Tuesday night's game against the Texas Rangers. Pitching matchups: Hiroki Kuroda (7-5, 2.78) vs. RHP Yu Darvish (7-3, 2.84) Tuesday night, Andy Pettitte (5-5, 4.20) vs. RHP Justin Grimm (6-5, 5.57) Wednesday night, and Phil Hughes (3-6, 5.09) vs. LHP Derek Holland (5-4, 3.43) Thursday afternoon.