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Assessing the AL East and the August heat

 As the Yankees finish up their series with the Rangers tonight, it’s a good time to look ahead at the rest of August.

The Yankees are ahead of the Rays for the AL East lead by a half a game, but this hairline fracture could be a chasm by the end of the month. New York is scheduled to play one team above .500, while Tampa Bay will play four teams above or at .500 consecutively.

The Yankees will face one opponent the rest of the month with a record above .500: the Chicago White Sox. New York will also play Kansas City, Detroit, Seattle, Toronto, and they will finish the month hosting Oakland. Oakland is currently has a 56-56 record and the Yankees lead the series 5-1.

The Rays have a tougher road ahead, particularly from August 16 through 29, when they will host Texas, head out West to face Oakland and Los Angeles and then come home to play Boston.

The difference in schedule difficulty is stark. The Yankees will face three teams (KC, DET and SEA) that are planning for 2011, whereas the Rays will be dropped into a dogfight against a slate of AL West contenders and then return home to play Boston. If there is any equalizer, the Yankees have just one day off the rest of the month, and it will come after playing 20 consecutive days.

To make matters worse, Tampa Bay will likely be without starting pitchers Wade Davis (9-9) and Jeff Niemann (10-3) until the end of the month. The two starters were placed on the 15-day DL with arm fatigue. Rookie Jeremy Hellickson has filled a vacancy in the rotation well, winning his first two starts.

As for the Boston Red Sox that sit five games back of the division lead, they too have to deal with AL West contenders Texas and Los Angeles consecutively and will head to Tampa Bay on the last weekend of the month. Tampa Bay leads the series against Boston 8-4 and with the abundance of injured Red Sox, the task ahead is daunting.

The next few weeks could determine who rides red-hot into September or who wilts the rest of the way.

Here is a look at the August schedules for New York, Tampa Bay and Boston starting tomorrow:

Yankees: @KC*, DET*, SEA, @TOR, @CWS, OAK (beginning August 30)

Rays: BAL, TEX, @OAK, @LAA, BOS, TOR (beginning August 30)

Red Sox: @TOR (two games), @TEX, LAA, TOR, SEA, @TB, @BAL (beginning August 31)

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