5 things to watch as Yankees face Rays in three-game series at Yankee Stadium

Here are five things to watch as the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays play a three-game series at Yankee Stadium starting on Friday...

Getting back on track

The trip to Toronto was rough for the Yankees. After blowing the win in their series finale against the Cleveland Guardians on Sunday, New York dropped the first two games against the division rival Blue Jays.

They were three outs away from being swept and extending their losing streak to four games, but a ninth-inning comeback helped them get back in the win column. Now, it's about building on it.

The losing streak was the first lull this season, but how will New York respond against the always-pesky Rays? Winning this series would bring the good feels back in the Bronx.

Is Aaron Judge back?

Well, here we are again.

After going 4-for-13 with a home run in Cleveland, he was 0-for-12 with six strikeouts going into his final at-bat in Toronto. Judge did come through with a two-run single to put the Yanks up for good in that final AB of Wednesday's win.

The slugger continues to preach that he needs to continue to swing the bat to put his slow start behind him, and his teammates have given him plenty of chances to come through.

Tampa is set to have Zach Eflin and Aaron Civale take the mound in this series -- the third starter has yet to be determined -- and Judge is a combined 4-for-23 (two doubles) with 10 strikeouts against Eflin and Civale. Judge can buck the trend, but temper your expectations and hope he gets his chances against the Rays' bullpen.

Yankees need to clean up the defense

A disturbing trend for the Yanks is the number of errors and defensive miscues they have this season -- especially in the infield. They made two errors in the series finale against the Guardians on Sunday and it cost them the game.

They enter the weekend series with 16 errors, which is third-worst in MLB.

When the offense isn't humming, getting behind early and giving up insurance runs has killed any hope of a comeback for this team.

Apr 10, 2024; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres (25) at Yankee Stadium

Now, Anthony Volpe and Oswaldo Cabrera have shown flashes of brilliance in the infield, but Gleyber Torres has often made the wrong decision or misplayed balls he normally handles. And Anthony Rizzo hasn't been his usual Gold Glove-caliber self this season, either.

The Yankees only had one error in the Blue Jays series. Let's see if they can make that zero against the Rays this weekend.

Can Anthony Volpe break out of his first slump?

It was bound to happen eventually, but the second-year shortstop is officially in a slump. In the Toronto series, Volpe went 1-for-13 and lowered his batting average from .382 to .324 in just three games.

However, the most concerning part was that he struck out five times -- including four in Tuesday's loss -- and didn't draw a walk.

We shouldn't expect Volpe to hit almost .400 for the entire season, but the increased strikeouts and not getting on base via the walk should be monitored. Perhaps returning to the Bronx will get him back on track. It'll also be interesting to see if manager Aaron Boone decides to bat Volpe down in the order again.

It may not happen as Boone said that even when DJ LeMahieu returns, he's probably not taking Volpe out of the leadoff spot. We will see how long he's willing to stick with his young shortstop in this role if he continues to struggle.

Can starters give the Yanks length?

The bullpen has been great this season while the starters have been up and down.

New York will have Clarke Schmidt, Nestor Cortes and Luis Gil pitching this weekend in that order. But can any of them give the team some length and not put so much stress on the bullpen?

Schmidt has yet to pitch six innings, and outside of that one start against the Marlins, Cortes has gone five innings or fewer in three of his four starts. Gil has pitched five innings just once out of his three starts.

We know the game has changed, but if the starters can pitch six or even seven innings once in a while, it would go a long way. We'll see if any of these pitchers can do it this weekend.