NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — When A.J. Burnett first joined the Yankees, he couldn’t lose to the Tampa Bay Rays. Now he can’t beat them.

He’ll try to end his woes against the Rays on Monday night when the Yankees begin a four-game series at Tropicana Field.

And there are major playoff implications at stake in this series. New York is 1.5 games behind first-place Boston in the powerful AL East, and the Yankees lead the Rays by 5.5 games for the wild card.

“I think it’s important,” manager Joe Girardi told “They’re important games, just like the games we had at our ballpark, because we know they’re going to be there all year long and we’re going to have to battle them. This gives us a chance to do that.”

The Yankees just split a four-game set in Toronto by winning the final two games. Curtis Granderson had three RBIs and Brett Gardner three hits and three runs in Sunday’s 7-2 victory.

Burnett (8-7, 4.15 ERA) signed with New York (55-37) before the 2009 season, then went 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his first six starts against Tampa Bay.

He’s 0-4 with a 7.83 ERA in his last five outings against the Rays (50-43), although the right-hander did not receive a decision July 9 after yielding three runs over 5 2-3 innings in a 5-4 victory that was more notable for Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit and 5-for-5 performance.

Rays slugger Evan Longoria is 13 for 38 (.342) against Burnett, although he’s 3 for 20 against the Yankees this year and 2 for 21 in his last five games overall.

The Yankees have won three of five against Tampa Bay this season, including two of three at home before the All-Star break.

Girardi’s team may have an emotional edge as well as the more rested bullpen after Tampa Bay’s 1-0, 16-inning loss to Boston on Sunday night – and into Monday morning. The Rays managed only three singles, one walk and two hit batsmen in the 5-hour, 44-minute affair.

“I’d say this is probably the toughest loss of the year, to know that our pitching kept us in the whole game,” said center fielder B.J. Upton, who went 0 for 6.

Eight relievers combined to work the final eight innings of the Rays’ sixth loss in nine games.

“It’s never fun to lose a game like that,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You use a lot of pitchers and a lot of emotion, but I’m really proud of the way our boys handled tonight.”

Maddon and bench coach Dave Martinez weren’t around to see the end. They were ejected during the 11th inning after both had words with plate umpire Chad Fairchild.

“My takeaway is that we can beat the Red Sox and they know it,” Maddon said. “My takeaway from the 1-0 loss to the Yankees (last Sunday) is that we can beat the Yankees and they know it. We’re not going away. It’s just a temporary inconvenience right now.”

Rookie Alex Cobb (2-0, 3.41) will make his sixth start for Tampa Bay and replace an injured Wade Davis in the rotation. Cobb has been in the minors since his victory June 18 against Florida.

The 23-year-old right-hander has never faced the Yankees. Cobb appears to be OK after he was hit in the head by a ball during batting practice this week.

What’s your prediction for Yankees-Rays? Let us know in the comments below…

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