NEW YORK YANKEES (79-68)
at BOSTON RED SOX (89-59)
First pitch: Friday, 7:10 p.m. ET
Line: Boston -140, New York +130, Total: 9
Winners of three in a row, the Yankees will look to gain ground in the Wild Card race against the AL East-leading Red Sox, who have won 14 of their past 18 games.
New York enters this series without SS Derek Jeter (ankle), who is done for the season, and speedy OF Brett Gardner, who could be done for the regular season after straining his oblique on Thursday night. On Friday the Yankees send their ace Hiroki Kuroda (11-10, 2.99 ERA) to the mound, who beat Boston Sunday to settle down after a bumpy stretch. To counter, the Red Sox send out John Lackey (9-12, 3.48 ERA), who beat the Yankees Saturday despite giving up seven earned runs in 5.2 innings. In baseball’s most exciting rivalry, Boston holds a 27-25 edge over the past three years, though New York is 14-10 at Fenway Park in that span. This year, the Red Sox are 10-6 against the Yankees despite a 3-3 record at home. This is surprising given how New York has struggled on the road this season (35-37) while Boston has been quite dominant at home (47-25).
Before last week’s start against the Red Sox in which he gave up two runs in six innings, Kuroda (1.12 WHIP) had allowed 23 runs (19 ER) over his previous four starts, going 0-3 with a 7.43 ERA and 1.74 WHIP. But Kuroda has generally been terrific this season, with 136 strikeouts and just 35 walks in 183.2 innings this year while limiting opponents to a .244 BA. And even though the Red Sox are hot, he is just one of four pitchers to deal them a loss in their past 18 games. In his career, Kuroda is 3-4 (team 5-6) with a 3.74 ERA and 1.25 WHIP against Boston, giving up just seven runs in three starts against them since mid-July. Notably, David Ortiz (9-for-15, 1 HR, 3 RBI) has crushed him while he has limited others such as OF Jonny Gomes (.154 BA, 5 K's in 13 AB), C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.217 BA, 6 K's in 23 AB) and SS Stephen Drew (.229 BA, 6 K's in 35 AB). The New York bullpen, led by ace closer Mariano Rivera, has been great this year with a 28-14 record, 3.57 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Yankees relievers have been much better on the road too, with a 14-8 record, 2.65 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.
Before Lackey’s (1.20 WHIP) last start when he got shellacked and still got the win, he delivered four straight quality starts for the Red Sox, going 1-2 with 2.76 ERA and 0.96 WHIP during this streak. After a rocky start to his Boston career, Lackey appears to have found his groove this season with 145 strikeouts and 37 walks in 168 innings, limiting opponents to a .253 BA even though he has given up 21 homers. Lackey is 10-11 (team 16-14) against the Yankees in his career with a subpar 4.63 ERA and 1.51 WHIP, beating Kuroda on Aug. 17 and losing to him July 20. In seven starts in this series over the past two years, Lackey is 4-2 despite a 5.91 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. 3B Alex Rodriguez has taken Lackey deep five times in 60 career at-bats, but has batted just .183 with 26 strikeouts against the right-hander. OF Ichiro Suzuki has faced Lackey 117 times in his career, batting .300 with 16 strikeouts. The Boston bullpen may be needed to pick up some of the slack if he gets Lackey struggles again, and the unit has a solid 29-19 record, 3.61 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 2013. Red Sox relievers have blown 21 saves though (60% success rate) and have been shakier at home with a 3.67 ERA and 1.34 WHIP.