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UP NEXT: RAYS VS. YANKEES

SCOUTING REPORT: Some portray the Yankees as symbolizing everything wrong with the economic system, but it is hard to argue with their onfield success.

The Yankees come to town with the best record in the AL and as strong favorites to reach the World Series again, having won 45 of their past 67 games to move into first in the AL East.

They always are a popular draw, sporting a roster loaded with All-Stars and superstars, including matinee idol Derek Jeter, potential MVP Alfonso Soriano, slugger Jason Giambi and multi-talented Bernie Williams.

They still have concerns. Closer Mariano Rivera appears headed to the disabled list with a shoulder problem, the aging rotation has shown its wear (with Roger Clemens on the DL), the outfielders have not produced sufficiently and the defense has been suspect at times.

What makes it different for the Yankees is that they can correct their mistakes by spending more money. They have acquired another starter (Jeff Weaver) and an outfielder (Raul Mondesi) and are rumored to be looking for more.

The Yankees have Steve Karsay, Ramiro Mendoza and left-hander Mike Stanton to handle late-game relief. Catcher Jorge Posada, hurt Tuesday in Cleveland, is expected back by Saturday.

TAMPA BAY CONNECTIONS: Rays pitchers Victor Zambrano (an infielder at the time) and Luis De Los Santos were released by the Yankees as minor-leaguers. Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer is a longtime Treasure Island resident and bullpen coach Rich Monteleone is a former Tampa prep star. Several Yankees, including David Wells and Jeter, have offseason homes in the area.

ALL-TIME SERIES: The Yankees have won eight of nine this season, including a three-game sweep at the Trop in early May, and have outscored the Rays 59-20. Overall, the Yankees hold a 46-18 advantage and are 20-11 at the Trop.

WHO'S HOT: Giambi is hitting .344 with 22 homers and 68 RBIs in his past 71 games.

WHO'S NOT: Mondesi has yet to have much impact, hitting .216 with seven RBIs in 14 games with the Yankees.

_ MARC TOPKIN

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