Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The last-place Yankees can celebrate at least one moral victory. They limped into Tropicana Field for a weekend series with the MLB-best Rays and were competitive every step of the way, even as they lost two of three.

Lucky for the Yankees, it won’t be long before they see Tampa Bay again. The rival Rays arrive at Yankee Stadium for four games starting Thursday, and Aaron Judge is expected back in the lineup. That’s a prime opportunity to gain some ground.

But win or lose, these two teams match up well. Ten regular season games remain.

Hitting: As we mentioned at the start of the series, the Rays are currently MLB’s best hitting team. We can now confirm that tracks despite the soft strength of schedule. Key bats have improved since last season, namely Wander Franco and Harold Ramirez. Tampa Bay’s lineup is all the stronger with them hitting for more consistent power.

And without both Giancarlo Stanton and reigning MVP Aaron Judge, the Yankees only got outscored 15-14. However, New York’s 27 total base hits edged the Rays’ 26. Harrison Bader carried the team on his back and the Yankee lineup is that much stronger with Judge in it.

Pitching: This is where both teams are pretty even. The Yankees build bullpens from scratch and have a great pitching coach in Matt Blake, and the Rays just always seem to have good young pitching. By the numbers, their arms easily performed better than the Yankees. It’s truly saying something when Domingo German was New York’s best pitcher in a series that also featured Gerrit Cole.

Except that’s just it. It wasn’t so much that the Rays’ pitching was that good, but rather that the Yankees’ was that bad this weekend. Jhony Brito showed Friday that despite having major league stuff, he’s still learning how to pitch. Cole, on the other hand, has a 4.70 ERA in his last three starts after posting a stellar 0.79 mark through his first five.

The Rays won Round 1, but the upcoming Bronx series might provide a clearer picture on the arms.

Are the Rays a better team than the Yankees? Slow your roll, #YankeesTwitter. Nobody likes being in last place but context is key. Yes, the Rays had the privilege of playing some easy teams early on, but the rest of the division hasn’t kept up. Plain and simple. On paper, a full strength Yankees team is better than Tampa Bay.

But let’s give the Rays their due credit. Kevin Cash realized his lineup had to perform better, particularly in the power department, and his players did their homework. Three players at or near the heart of the order have already matched their total home runs from last year. It’s strange seeing a Rays lineup perform more like one we’d see from the Red Sox, isn’t it?

Everyone should take a deep breath and realize it’s still early May. The only reason this recent Yankees’ rough stretch and losing both Judge and Stanton stings more is recency bias. Last year’s August collapse was still less than a year ago and nobody holds onto things like Yankees fans.

The Rays have a good team. So do the Yankees. The next series can and will be different.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.