First Pitch: Important series vs. Rays ahead

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees will wrap up an eight-game homestand with three against the Tampa Bay Rays, beginning Friday.

Anything less than two wins would be very disappointing.

The Yankees will face three pitchers with ERAs of 4.75 or higher in David Price (3-2, 4.75), Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 6.85) and Erik Bedard (0-1, 5.52). Yes, Price is a three-time All-Star and Cy Young Award winner, but he has not pitched well of late. He gave up eight runs on nine hits in his last start, against the Chicago White Sox, and gave up six runs on 10 hits against the Yanks back on April 17.

New York has the pitching edge on paper. Vidal Nuno (0-0, 6.59) is the underdog Friday night, but then Masahiro Tanaka (3-0, 2.27) goes Saturday afternoon and CC Sabathia (3-3, 5.11) is up Sunday afternoon.

Sabathia didn't look great in his last start, giving up four runs in five innings against the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. But he pitched his best game of the season at Tampa Bay on April 17, limiting the Rays to one run in seven frames.

The Rays might be a bit tired, after playing a day-night doubleheader in Boston on Thursday. The Yankees should be pretty fresh after getting two days off this week -- a scheduled one Monday and a weather-related one Wednesday.

When you add it all up, the Yanks should win the series -- especially in the Bronx.

These two teams split a wild four-game series in mid-April. A night after beating up Price, the Yankees blew a four-run lead in an 11-5 loss, were crushed 16-1 the following night, before rebounding to win the series finale in 12 innings 5-1.

But the Yanks (15-12) have been the better team through the first month of the season, three games ahead of the Rays (13-16) in the standings.

Speaking of the standings, believe it or not, these will be the last three games the Yankees play against an AL East opponent until June 17. The following 39 are against teams from outside the division, starting with a challenging six-game road trip to face the Los Angeles Angels (14-13), followed by the team with the best record in baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers (20-9).

That makes this series even more important. You never want to head out on a tough trip, particularly to the West Coast, on a losing note.

The Yankees have not won a season series against the Rays since 2009. They were just 7-12 against them in 2013.

But if they want to return to the postseason in 2014, they need a better showing against injury-depleted Tampa Bay, which might be the weakest team in the division this year.

What's next: Nuno vs. Price, first pitch at 7:05 p.m. Andrew Marchand will be on duty for ESPNNewYork.com.