Phil Hughes of the New York Yankees walks back to the mound as Mauro Gomez of the Boston Red Sox scores a run against the New York Yankees during the second game of a doubleheader at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
These longtime AL East rivals meet for a three-game series beginning Friday night at Yankee Stadium. For the Red Sox, the set has a sense of urgency.
When these two teams last met, three weeks ago at Fenway Park, the Yankees came into the series leading the American League East by 5½ games, a strong but not insurmountable advantage, and the Red Sox, though trailing New York by 7½, were just two games back of the wild-card leaders.
The Yankees took three of four from the Red Sox, and since they left Boston have increased their division lead to eight games, despite treading water at 7-6. An eight-game lead in a playoff race in late July isn't insurmountable -- just ask the Red Sox about that -- but the Yankees appear well-positioned for another year of play into October.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox have lost five of their last six and now stand last in the American League East, one game under .500 and at the bottom of the eight-team scrum fighting for the two AL wild cards, 4½ games behind the Athletics.
As usual, all three games will be on national (or near-national, in the case of Fox's Saturday telecast) television. Here's Fox's coverage map. See if you can explain to me why all of the upper Midwest except the LaCrosse and Eau Claire, Wisconsin markets will see Boston/New York on Saturday.
7 p.m. ET, national TV via MLB Network: Aaron Cook vs. Phil Hughes. Cook has made six starts for the Red Sox and has three walks and three strikeouts in 36 innings, some of the most bizarre ratios (for both) that I've ever seen. Hughes was the starter and loser in the only game the Yankees lost in the series earlier this month; this one might be Boston's best chance of winning a game. It'll also be Ichiro Suzuki's first appearance at Yankee Stadium in a New York uniform.
4 p.m. ET, regional TV via Fox: Jon Lester vs. CC Sabathia. Lester's ERA has bloated all the way to 5.46; he has a 10.42 ERA this month and got absolutely pounded in his last start, giving up 11 earned runs to the Blue Jays in four innings last Sunday. Sabathia, meanwhile, picked up where he left off after returning from the DL after the All-Star break. Presuming it's sunny in New York, hitters could have problems with shadows with the late-afternoon start.
7 p.m. ET, national TV via ESPN: Felix Doubront vs. Hiroki Kuroda. Doubront is one of those young pitchers who throws a couple of really nice games and you think, "At last, he's figured it out!", and then he goes out and gets hit really hard, as he did in his last outing, Monday against the Rangers. Meanwhile, Kuroda has been an excellent investment for the Yankees, solid all year, and has allowed just one run in his last two starts, covering 14 innings, with 14 strikeouts and one walk (WHIP of 0.571).
It doesn't look promising for the Red Sox. This is their first trip to New York in 2012 after going 1-5 against the Yankees at Fenway; last year Boston won six straight games at Yankee Stadium before dropping two of three in a key September series. This series doesn't have the impact of a late-September set, but if the Red Sox lose this series 2-1, or worse, get swept, they can probably start planning for 2013.