Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Year 3, Phase 1 of The Florida Project didn’t end ideally: the Yankees lost two of three to the Rays and are still last place in the AL East.

And yet, the Bronx Bombers otherwise achieved all other goals of the series. All three games were competitive and so were the Yankees’ at-bats. Base hits took priority over power and at no point did New York’s bats look overwhelmed by Tampa Bay’s MLB-best pitching staff.

Four games at Yankee Stadium kick off Thursday and make no mistake. It’s a revenge series.

Some takeaways:

Bader batters the Rays. There’s no doubt that Harrison Bader was the MVP of this series independent of the result. The Yankees’ Gold Glove center fielder had two home runs in the series and also hit .545 with seven RBI. And remember, neither Aaron Judge nor Giancarlo Stanton were available this series.

Better yet is that Harrison Bader the power hitter might be here to stay. Brendan Kuty of The Athletic wrote how Bader switched to an ax-handle bat during the playoffs last year and saw his power improve. Now, he just needs to stay healthy.

Don’t sleep on Domingo German. With no Carlos Rodon return in sight, the Yankees should be grateful German has pitched so well. He followed his stellar start against Cleveland with five hard-earned innings in Tampa Bay on Saturday, allowing just two runs. The bullpen held the line and the Yankees came back to win.

It’s a small sample size but German has posted a 2.03 ERA and 2.61 FIP in both his starts this month. He’s not just pitching well, but sustainably. His past is checkered and he’s been streaky all year, but early May returns suggest German might have unlocked something. Let’s see him keep at it while Rodon and Luis Severino work themselves back.

The Yankees can keep up with the Rays. As has been discussed, the Rays’ strong start this year is largely because of a soft schedule. Winning two of three against the Yankees improves their record against playoff teams to…4-5.

Granted, give the Rays credit where it’s due. Their lineup isn’t deep on paper, but guys like Yandy Diaz and Harold Ramirez improved enough in the offseason to make it a threat. Wander Franco’s power has also taken a big leap. The banged up Yankees still kept pace with them.

It’s also worth noting that, as is common with many Yankees- Rays series, plenty went luckily right for Tampa Bay. Rookie Jhony Brito didn’t have a great start Friday, then Jake Bauers missed an easy catch and the go-ahead run scored. Gerrit Cole blew a 6-0 lead Sunday and allowed for an eventual extra-innings win.

And on Saturday, baseball’s best offense could only muster two first-inning runs against German. These Rays are good, but could have a tough time holding that division lead against a healthy Yankees team.

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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.