Though the baseball season is quickly sliding away, the New York Yankees can still overtake Boston in the American League East with six head-to-head meetings still on tap. The fiercest rivalry on the planet resumes Friday in the Bronx.
Even the most devout Yankees supporter shouldn't bet on a six-game sweep, especially since the last three games will be played in Beantown on the last weekend of the season. Fenway Park is where the Red Sox chew up opposing pitchers and spit them out.
Neither team has taken command in baseball's marquee matchup over the last four seasons. Boston held a slim 36-35 lead over New York the past three campaigns. The Yankees have evened the slate by winning seven of the first 13 meetings this season.
Aaron Small, an unlikely hero for the Yankees, gets the ball in Friday's series opener against David Wells. Small halted a two-game New York slide when he pitched a complete-game shutout at Oakland last Saturday in his first start since August 10.
Wells has won his last two starts versus the Yankees this season thanks to yielding just three earned runs in 15 1/3 innings. The portly southpaw came up short in the season opener at Yankee Stadium after allowing four runs in 4 1/3 innings.
Tim Wakefield has split four decisions against New York this year. He's thrived in the Bronx, cashing three of his last four with a 1.85 ERA. Randy Johnson, who will likely oppose Wakefield on Sunday, has won three of four versus Boston this year despite a 4.66 ERA. New York has won 13 of 15 at home when Johnson gets the call.
Boston will be playing its first game on the road following a 14-game home stand. The Red Sox are only 34-35 away from the friendly confines of Fenway. The Yankees had won 11 of their last 13 at home pending Thursday's result versus Tampa Bay.
Facts and figures for teams in the playoff chase appear below.
BRAVES at NATIONALS
A change of venue has helped Washington compete with Atlanta this season. The Braves tamed the Nationals/Expos in 15 of 19 last year, but trail the season series 7-6 in 2005. Washington has won four of six versus the NL-East leaders at RFK Stadium. Nationals' ace Livan Hernandez, who lost five of six with an 8.10 ERA versus Atlanta last year, turned the tables in his last chance. The Cuban workhorse bested the Braves at Turner Field on August 31, allowing three runs in 7 1/3 innings. He had lost five of his previous seven starts in Georgia with a 6.87 ERA. John Smoltz has been a tough nut for Washington to crack. The Braves mainstay has come out on top in all four starts versus the Nationals this season. Atlanta hasn't fared well against right-handers during the day, failing to cash 11 of 15.
MARLINS at PHILLIES
Philadelphia may be a little shell-shocked after closer Billy Wagner lost back-to-back games versus Houston at home to put a crimp in his team's playoff plans. Florida comes to town in the midst of an 11-game trip versus fellow wild-card contenders. The Marlins have won seven of 13 versus the Phillies, falling short in four of seven at Citizens Bank Park. Brett Myers has reversed course versus Florida, winning two of three with a 1.45 ERA after dropping seven of his previous nine decisions with a 6.41 ERA. The last six series meetings in Philadelphia have topped the total.
ASTROS at BREWERS
Houston has cashed six of nine versus Milwaukee this year and 19 of the last 28 series squabbles overall. The Astros took two of three at Miller Field in their first visit. Houston is fresh off a three-game sweep at Philadelphia that solidified its hold on the top spot in the wild-card chase. Andy Pettitte has feasted on the Brewers, posting a 3-0 mark with a 2.25 ERA. The Astros have lost 14 of 20 on the road during the day.
METS at CARDINALS
St. Louis and the New York Mets renew acquaintances for the first time since mid-May. The Cardinals improved their recent record against the Mets to 7-2 by taking two of three at Shea Stadium. St. Louis has cashed eight of the last nine series shootouts at Busch Stadium. The 'over' is 6-2 in the last eight meetings in St. Louis.
PADRES at DODGERS
San Diego began play Thursday with a comfortable six-game cushion in the NL-West. The Padres have struggled against the Los Angeles Dodgers, dropping eight of 12 meetings, including five of six on the road. Derek Lowe, who has emerged as the Dodgers' ace this season, hasn't allowed an earned run in his last two starts and just two earned runs in his last 24 innings. Lowe is 2-1 with a 0.78 ERA versus San Diego this year.
TWINS at INDIANS
Cleveland will be looking to bounce back after losing two of three at Minnesota last weekend. The Twins have won seven of 13 versus the Tribe and cashed four of seven at Jacobs Field. Cleveland lefty Cliff Lee had won four straight against Minnesota before losing at the Metrodome on June 1 when he allowed four runs and nine hits in five innings. Jake Westbrook has lost two of three against the Twins despite a 2.25 ERA this season. He has come up short in seven of his nine career decisions against Minnesota. Kyle Lohse has floundered in five of his last six against the Tribe.
ANGELS at WHITE SOX
Mark Buehrle and Jarrod Washburn match pitches in Friday's series opener. Buehrle has whipped Los Angeles twice with a 2.08 ERA this season. Washburn has cashed three of his last four in the Windy City with a 2.08 ERA. Chicago has won four of seven versus the Halos, capturing two of three in the last series encounter at US Cellular Field. The Angels have fared well against Jon Garland, coming out on top in five of seven chances. The Pale Hose are 10-5 at home during the day against right-handers.
ATHLETICS at RANGERS
Oakland swept a four-game set in its last visit to Texas while scoring 30 runs. The A's lead the season series, 8-5. Barry Zito takes the mound in the series opener looking to improve his 8-1 record versus the Rangers on the road. The former Cy Young Award honoree won for the 13th time in 15 decisions against Texas at home on July 15, allowing one run in eight innings. Kenny Rogers has held all the aces versus Oakland at home, winning four of five with a 2.93 ERA. The Rangers are 10-5 at home during the day against right-handers.