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The Tampa Bay Rays have spent most of the past month capitalizing on opportunities to gain ground in the American League East, doing so with a depleted roster that is about to become healthier.

This weekend, visiting Tampa Bay gets its last head-to-head series against the division-leading New York Yankees, with the three-game series set to open on Friday.

Tampa Bay’s Brandon Lowe returned from the injured list on Wednesday. He has been limited to 62 games due to multiple ailments. Wander Franco is expected to return this weekend, possibly as soon as Friday, from a right hamate bone injury that has kept him out since July 10.

Without Lowe and Franco, the Rays (77-58) are 8-1 in their past nine games and 23-10 in their past 33. They head to New York trailing the Yankees by 4 1/2 games after they were 11 games behind when they visited the Bronx last month. Tampa Bay took two of three against the New York from Aug. 15-17.

“We’re facing everybody that is either going to go to the postseason or is vying for a wild-card spot,” Lowe said. “We’re not playing any games that don’t matter. … Every game right now means something, and that’s going to help us prepare for the postseason.”

New York leads the season series 9-7. The Yankees got seven wins when they raced out to a 15 1/2-game lead in early July and a 64-28 record at the All-Star break.

After a 2-1 loss to the Yankees on Sunday, the Rays completed a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday when Taylor Walls drove in the lone run and five pitchers combined on a six-hitter in a 1-0 win.

New York (83-55) has 15 players on the injured list and Giancarlo Stanton is a question mark because of a leg injury. He appeared for the first time since Monday when he struck out as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning on Thursday during the Yankees’ 4-3 loss to the visiting Minnesota Twins.

Stanton may able to return Friday, but even if he does, the Yankees are hoping to get more contributions from players such as Miguel Andujar, who hit a two-run homer after being added to the roster earlier Thursday. He arrived as a replacement for DJ LeMahieu, who landed on the injured list due to a toe injury that has hindered him since mid-August.

“We have a big list of guys injured,” Andujar said. “For sure that’s definitely something that we do not want. At the same time, you look around this room and there’s guys (who) put so much time in here and you have to look at this as an opportunity and try to contribute as much as you can.”

The Yankees will open the series hoping Frankie Montas (5-11, 3.79 ERA) can duplicate his stellar showing from Sunday. Montas is 1-2 with a 5.87 ERA in six starts since being obtained from the Oakland A’s. He earned his first win as a Yankee when he allowed one hit in five scoreless innings vs. the Rays.

Montas is 3-1 with a 1.63 ERA in seven career appearances (six starts) against Tampa Bay, including 2-0 with a 0.49 ERA in three starts this season against the Rays.

Tampa Bay’s Drew Rasmussen (9-4, 2.70 ERA) is expected to be activated off the paternity list to make his first start since Aug. 31. Rasmussen’s only previous appearance against the Yankees was 2 1/3 scoreless innings as a reliever on July 28, 2021.

–Field Level Media