Many things are made inconsequential by a lost season. Red Sox - Yankees is not one of them.
Sure, a better record, a real chance for the division and the playoffs, and these would be three of the most heated games you'll ever see. But even with one team down and the other running away with first place, Red Sox - Yankees will always have fire.
So what if the best possible outcome has the Red Sox still trailing by nearly 10 games in the standings? So what if the Yankees still steamroll their way to October? What matters right now is beating the other team. Going 3-0 and showing the Yankees that they're never that far clear of the Red Sox. Maybe they can even drag them down and make them sweat the last month as the Rays and Orioles chase at their heals.
At this point, there's little enough for the Red Sox to lose. But if they can make the Yankees have a few bad days, then it'll be a nice weekend to hang their hats on.
Boston Red Sox (58-61) vs. New York Yankees (70-48)
Friday, August 17, 7:05 p.m. EST
NESN/MLB Network, WEEI
Franklin Morales (3-3, 3.29 ERA) vs. Phil Hughes (11-10, 4.44 ERA)
Of course, the Sox still have to work with the roster they have regardless of any hype-up, and in a bizarre year like this one, that means that Franklin Morales vs. Phil Hughes is the best matchup they're going to get.
This in a series that will contain starts by both Jon Lester and Josh Beckett.
That being said, where Jon Lester is on the upswing, Franklin Morales may well not be. While Morales' first start after being reinserted into the rotation showed he hadn't lost the touch he showed earlier in the year, his last outing against Cleveland was the sort to inspire a few worries. For a pitcher making the change back to starting, late struggles such as he had against the Indians can suggest he's hitting a wall this late in the season. It's not reason for concern long-term, but as far as the rest of this year is concerned, he may have seen his best days.
After a remarkably consistent July, Hughes has had the wheels fall off some in August, surrendering eleven earned runs in his last eight innings. There's reason to believe this might just be a bit of bad luck for Hughes, but he's not such an impressive specimen to begin with that the Sox should be terrified of him even at his best. This isn't the game where the Sox should be getting shut down. Given both starters, this game may well come down to which pen can hold a lead.
Saturday, August 18, 4:05 p.m. EST
Jon Lester (6-10, 5.20 ERA) vs. David Phelps (3-3, 2.53 ERA)
The last time Jon Lester faced the Yankees, he allowed four runs in six innings. Though it doesn't seem it, that was actually something of a milestone for the southpaw. After suffering through three straight disasters, it was a return to normalcy, and Lester has actually managed to use it as something of a launching pad since then, pitching to a 3.48 ERA in August with 23 strikeouts and four walks. He's in better form now than he was when the Yankees scored four, so maybe he can go ahead and turn that into better results.
David Phelps has performed admirably in his occasional spot starts this year, and can be typically be relied on to keep the team in the game even without a legitimate starter. The problem is that the New York bullpen will likely have to work quite a few innings behind him, especially if the Sox can be patient and take advantage of their positive situation. That's not been their strong point of late, but they did well against Tillman Thursday.
Sunday, August 19, 8:05 p.m. EST
Josh Beckett (5-10, 5.19 ERA) vs. Hiroki Kuroda (11-8, 3.06 ERA)
Easily the worst matchup for the Red Sox. Josh Beckett is an unmitigated disaster right now, and the last thing he needed was a game against the Yankees. He'll get just that, however, and about all that Red Sox fans can do is wait and hope for a miracle.
They'll need a really good miracle too, given the kind of run he's on. Since the Sox and Angels dealt him heavy back-to-back blows, Kuroda has rattled off 43.2 innings of seven-run ball, culminating in a complete game two-hitter against The Texas Rangers last time out. The Sox, too, have been included in his run through some of the best lineups, leaving it hard to see them being the ones to break his momentum.
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