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What's new: Despite the circus atmosphere accompanying the return of suspended-but-appealing 3B Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees actually are playing better (11-6 overall, 10 wins in their past 12), racking up runs and battling to get back into the playoff race. Plus, OF Curtis Granderson has returned from the disabled list, OF Alfonso Soriano has been a productive pickup, and INF/DH Mark Reynolds was added for depth. SS Derek Jeter could come off the DL on Saturday. The back of the bullpen, led by Mariano Rivera, can be dominant, leaving starting pitching as the primary concern, though the Yankees are using their three best this weekend: RHP Hiroki Kuroda, LHP CC Sabathia and RHP Ivan Nova.
Key stat: The Yankees scored in double digits three times in a six-game stretch last week after doing so only four times in their first 117 games.
Connections: Rays C Jose Molina is a former Yankee. Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild was the first Devil Rays manager.
Series history: Rays lead 7-6 this season, Yankees lead 164-105 overall, 64-77 at the Trop.
Marc Topkin, Times staff writer