A late-September series between arch-rivals who each have more than 90 victories often has the makings of thrilling theater.
In the Bronx this weekend, however, there will just be two teams tuning up for the postseason.
Boston likely needs a sweep to retain any chance of a division title, with the Yankees (97-56) holding a 5 1/2-game lead and a magic number of five.
But the Red Sox (91-61) may rather settle for the wild card and line up their pitching for the postseason. They lead Texas by eight games and need a combination of three wins and Rangers losses to secure a spot.
Lester (14-7, 3.33 ERA) has been one of the biggest reasons for Boston’s success, going 11-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 20 starts since May 31 - the third-best ERA in the majors over that span.
The left-hander has won four straight starts, battling through six-plus innings Saturday against Baltimore despite allowing 10 hits and three runs in the 11-5 win.
“I didn’t think he had his best stuff,” Boston manager Terry Francona said, “but on a night when he didn’t, he pitched pretty good.”
Lester has typically brought his best against the Yankees, who’ve never beaten him. Since the start of last season, He’s 3-0 with a 1.90 ERA in six starts versus New York, with Alex Rodriguez(notes) going 2 for 13 (.154) against Lester. Robinson Cano(notes) is 2 for 18 (.111) in that same stretch.
The Red Sox won their first eight games against the Yankees this year but have lost six of their last seven in the rivalry. They were swept in a four-game series in their last visit to Yankee Stadium from Aug. 6-9, going 31 straight innings without a run at one point that weekend.
Victor Martinez(notes) finally broke that drought with a home run in the eighth inning of a 5-2 loss in the series finale, and the Boston catcher brings a career-best 23-game hitting streak into Friday’s game.
He’ll try to extend it against Joba Chamberlain(notes), who is still looking for his first victory since Aug. 6. The right-hander, put on a strict innings limit by the Yankees late in his first full season as a starter, is 0-4 with an 8.42 ERA in his last eight outings.
Chamberlain (8-6, 4.73) may have to prove he deserves a spot in the postseason rotation after perhaps his worst outing of the year Sunday at Seattle. He allowed seven runs in three innings of a 7-1 loss.
“I let my teammates down. It was pretty much embarrassing what I did, not being able to pick my team up and get out of here with a series win,” Chamberlain said. “It will take more than this to get my confidence level down. You can kick me as much as you want but I will come back fighting every time.”
The Yankees rebounded by taking two of three from the Los Angeles Angels this week to close their road trip. They’re 52-23 in the Bronx this season, the second-best home record behind only Boston’s 52-22 mark.
The Red Sox are 39-39 on the road after beating Kansas City 10-3 on Thursday night.